By Emily Gold Boutilier

Matt Hartzler '13 displays his winning video.

No other Amherst student has ever ended the first week of classes the way Matt Hartzler ’13 did: on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, where he spotted celebrities, won a Moonman trophy and got to say a few words on live TV.

It all started last spring, when Hartzler, then a senior at Glenwood High School in Springfield, Ill., heard about a contest to make a music video. The contest was sponsored by Pepsi, MTV and the video game Rock Band. He and a friend decided to enter.

They picked a title, “Nerds in Disguise,” and a premise: Music-loving nerds arrive at the house party of a group of rockers, who let them in because they’ve brought Pepsi. Soft-drink-fueled antics ensue. They set the video to the song “My Own Worst Enemy” by the band Lit. 

Hartzler was the director. His friends served as actors. In the video, each actor portrays both a rocker and a nerd, and Hartzler has a cameo as a pizza delivery guy who gets tackled into the pool.

Once they’d made the video, Hartzler and his friends practically forgot about it—until they got a call saying that Pepsi, MTV and Rock Band had chosen it as one of the top five out of more than 650 entries. The public would vote online to decide the winner.

Hartzler and his friends, with the help of their families—including Hartzler’s father, Joe ’72—campaigned for votes, calling radio stations, talking to reporters and directing everyone they knew to the contest’s Web site.

Voting ended on Sept. 1. The next day, Hartzler got the news he’d been hoping for: “Nerds in Disguise” was the winner. MTV put him up in a Times Square hotel and sent him to a big party and a closed rehearsal. At the VMAs on Sept. 13, Hartzler had a prime seat, next to the Real World: Cancun cast, and got close-up views of Jay-Z, Diddy, Kim Kardashian and other celebrities.

When he and his friends took the stage to accept the VMA for Best Performance in a Pepsi Rock Band Video, Hartzler thanked Pepsi, Rock Band and MTV for the opportunity. One of his friends added, “Now we’re famous!”  After that, a commercial showed part of the “Nerds in Disguise” video.

Shortly before 8 a.m. the next day, Hartzler—who’s taking courses this semester in German, environmental studies and LJST, as well as the First-Year Seminar “From Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama”—posted to Twitter: “Peace NYC. Heading back to Amherst. Nothing like getting a VMA and not missing a single class.” 

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04