By Victoria Borkowski
Nick Leshi is Mr. Fordham, himself. He went to Fordham Prep, attended Fordham University as an undergrad and graduate student and recently returned to teach in the communications department at Rose Hill. Today, he works right across the street as the Director of Public Relations at the New York Botanical Garden. It seems like Leshi would be the poster child for the world’s most dedicated Fordham alum.
“Everybody jokes that they’re going to bury me on Southern Boulevard, but the maroon blood runs through me,” he said in an interview with The Fordham Ram.
But what everyone may not know is that in addition to his many roles as a professor, a PR professional and a father of two, he is also an actor on both the screen and stage. His passion for acting stems from his days at Fordham as a member of the Mimes and Mummers, a group that has kept the tradition of dramatics alive for nearly 160 years. I caught up with Leshi on the steps of Collins Hall, the home of the historic Fordham theater group.
“I spent a lot of hours at Collins Hall,” he said. “My most vivid memories were the weeks before the show — hell weeks. It was hours and hours in addition to all the work we were doing for our classes.”
However, growing up, acting did not come as naturally to him as some would think. Leshi described himself as an introvert, which made it challenging for him to pursue acting as a full-time career, despite his eventual success with the Mimes and Mummers.
“I would go to a lot of auditions. It’s difficult enough trying to be an actor if you’re an introvert with talent. I had no idea what I was doing,” said Leshi.
However, it was not long before he turned to his background in communications and discovered the world of public relations. In 2001, he became the Director of Public Relations at the New York Botanical Garden, which became his new stage for success. He has since planned countless events like the 25th annual Rose Garden Dinner, which honored the beloved actress and rose enthusiast Julie Andrews.
Leshi happened to be preparing for another event at the garden before we met at Collins for our chat, and he e-mailed me asking if it was okay if he was wore a suit to the interview. This politeness is the first thing everyone notices about Leshi, from his students to the Fordham faculty.
“He was always very cheerful, very motivated and just a pleasure to have in the classroom. He always had a genuine interest and curiosity,” said Lance Strate, his former professor.
Over the years, Leshi kept in touch with Strate before he was recruited to return to Fordham to teach two classes, Writing for Online Media and Public Relations.
Despite the change of direction in his professional life, Leshi has continued to pursue his passion for acting as a hobby. He co-founded Darknight Productions with friend Kevin Clancy, which has given him the opportunity to work as both an actor and writer in his free time. It was hard not to notice Leshi’s obvious dedication to acting and theater after speaking with Clancy.
“He is an actor of great range. Having the chance to watch him on stage (‘Julius Caesar,’ ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,’ as the straight-jacketed Puck in a scene from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ and especially in a devastating performance in ‘Rabbit Hole’), he has constantly shown both vulnerability, swagger and compassion.”
Although Leshi ultimately decided not to pursue acting as a full time job, he still dreams of one day bringing one of his own productions to life.
“I have a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts, but my dream would be to put on a play that would be a legacy and live on after me,” he said in an unmistakable Bronx accent. “I remember I auditioned here at Collins where the director actually said ‘go back and try without the accent.’ I was like, ‘I wasn’t using an accent!’”
Speaking of that Bronx accent, Leshi has been able to pursue his many roles in life in the place he calls home.
“I’ve traveled a bit, but for the most part, my wife jokes that the circle of my existence has been the Bronx and the Fordham community.”
His wife, Juliana Leshi, joined the Fordham family after the couple married at Fordham Chapel.
“Because he’s so ingrained in Fordham by default, being married to him and getting married here, I feel part of it as well,” she said during our phone interview. “I think because Fordham has become so comfortable to him, he just wants to stay. That’s what’s kept him tied to Fordham.”
While it may be comfort mixed with his family, jobs and hobbies that have kept him in the Bronx, Leshi will always have time for Fordham.
“On Wednesdays and Thursdays I teach, so that’s the stable part I can look forward to. I know I’ll be at Fordham at six, teaching my class,” he said.
As the sun began to set across the steps of Collins Hall, Leshi waved to a few students walking by as we finished the interview.
“I just love seeing the students because I was there not that long ago in their seat, and it’s just such a different perspective.”
Although Leshi’s life has changed so much since his time as a student, it is safe to say that Leshi’s legacy at Fordham will live on.