Josh Peck discusses his experience as a child actor, overcoming challenges in life at What Matters To U event

Actor Josh Peck laughs while telling a story to the crowd in the Shalala Center grand ballroom at the What Matters to U event on Oct. 21, 2021.
Actor Josh Peck laughs while telling a story to the crowd in the Shalala Center Grand Ballroom at the What Matters to U event on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

On Thursday evening, Student Government’s What Matters to U held a moderated discussion with Josh Peck, a YouTuber, social media influencer and actor most known for his co-lead role on Nickelodeon’s hit sitcom “Drake and Josh.”

Held in the Shalala Student Center’s Grand Ballroom at 6 p.m., the event marked the first time What Matters to U held an in-person discussion since Feb. 4, 2020, when the series hosted former governor of Ohio John Kasich as its fourth ever speaker.

What Matters to U, the most recent agency added under the vast umbrella of Student Government’s jurisdiction on campus, was founded in the spring semester of 2019 and serves to organize and execute engaging events that appeal to the university community.

With Josh Peck as the guest, the agency did exactly that, bringing in a celebrity who bestowed laughs, smiles and joy to his audience for nearly two decades since “Drake and Josh” debuted in 2004.

The event opened with a brief introduction from Student Government President Landon Coles, who reflected on the growth and progress that What Matters to U has shown to organize an event of Thursday’s discussion’s capacity amidst the circumstances and obstacles that the pandemic introduced.

“We have spent the greater part of nearly two years isolated and distant,” Coles said. “Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the What Matters to U team has labored tirelessly to bring us together.”

Coles then introduced Meera Patel, the chair of What Matters to U, along with faculty moderator MJ Barnes and student moderator Niles Niseem.

Niseem, a first-year broadcast journalism major and public speaker, marveled at the opportunity to speak with Peck.

“Getting to interview Josh Peck was such an amazing experience,” Niseem said. “I feel as if it was a shooting star, once-in-a-lifetime moment at the right place with the right people. I am truly grateful for it.”

Josh Peck poses with student moderator Niles Boyd after repositioning to sit next to him at the conclusion of the What Matters to U event in the Shalala Center grand ballroom on Oct. 21, 2021.
Josh Peck poses with student moderator Niles Niseem at the conclusion of the What Matters to U event in the Shalala Center Grand Ballroom on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Throughout the night, as the Grand Ballroom buzzed with applause and cheers, Barnes, Niseem and Peck discussed a variety of topics, such as Peck’s burst into the television industry as a child actor, his early experiences with fatherhood, the legitimacy of Bitcoin as a currency and what Peck’s major would have been in college.

Despite the diversity of the topics, the discussion between Peck and the moderators, along with the student questions that were submitted prior to the event, frequently circled around to “Drake and Josh.”

When the show aired in the mid-2000s, social media was in its earliest stages. For Peck, that meant being able to pursue his passion for acting as a young teenager while retaining the ability to enjoy the best parts of his childhood, like playing basketball in his apartment court with his best friend, playing hockey on their driveway and eating microwaved pizza.

“We were just making this show and I was doing my favorite comedy and the kind of bits I grew up doing and watching on kids television, but we didn’t have any level of celebrity,” Peck said. “I think today, if you’re on something meteoric at that age, your life changes in an instant. Luckily for me, I was able to have this extraordinary experience, and then one that was pretty standard.”

Within the humorous commentary that dominated the discussion, Peck also tugged at the audience’s heartstrings, sharing his perspectives on overcoming challenges in life.

“It happens on its own timetable that the bad times are there to teach us and the good times are there to remind us what we’re fighting for,” Peck said. “That’s life, right? It’s this beautiful valley of ups and downs because the world demands balance.”

Josh Peck smiles while answering a question from the moderators during the What Matters to U event in the Shalala Center grand ballroom on Oct. 21, 2021.
Josh Peck smiles while answering a question from the moderators during the What Matters to U event in the Shalala Center grand ballroom on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

For students like sophomore sport administration major Vincent Shipe, who is a long-time fan of Peck and his roles, the opportunity to see him in person and experience his contagious charisma was one that came with inevitable nostalgia.

“I had so much fun, especially since it was like a giant flashback to my childhood,” Shipe said. “As funny as it was, the advice he gave on always being willing to try something new and how today is the best day to do what you want really resonated with me, especially being a college student still figuring out his future.”

With Peck, a 90-minute discussion felt like seconds, and the audience was captivated by the energy and enthusiasm he had on stage.

“Josh Peck is truly one of the most genuine and hilarious speakers I have ever met,” freshman broadcast journalism major Regina Potenza said. “He’s warmed millions of hearts throughout the years and this was clearly evident at What Matters to U,”

After two full semesters of virtual discussions, the wait for the return of an in-person What Matters to U discussion was certainly a long one. However, the impact Peck made Thursday night, revived the core focus of What Matters to U, and it will be a lasting one on the program’s discussion series in the semesters to come.