Event Recap: Frank Abignale, a real character

Frank Abignale has helped to catch confidence tricksters for the FBI for 35 years.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Frank William Abagnale, Jr. speak, courtesy of Central Michigan University’s Program Board.

For those of you who don’t know who that is, he was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio as a teenage runaway who turned to crime as a means for survival, in Steven Spielberg’s film Catch Me If You Can.

In the film and in real life he became notorious for passing $2.5 million worth of meticulously forged checks across 26 countries over the course of five years, beginning when he was 16-years-old. But I can assure you this man is much more than an infamous thief and a character in a movie, and in his eyes what he did as a young man has remained a load on his shoulders ever since.

“It is my burden until the day I die that what I did was unethical, unmoral and wrong,” Abagnale said.

Before walking into see Abagnale speak the only mental picture and knowledge I had of him was the film and a quick scrolling of his Wikipedia page. In the film Steven Spielberg does a good job of making Abagnale look like a very witty yet immature and lost character. Honestly what I took from the film is that this guy was kind of a young James Bond, a bad ass who was just getting started.

But after listening to the real Abagnale speak for only a few minutes, I could quickly tell this was a man of great principal and great knowledge. He began the speech by telling his life story in his own words.

As he vocally depicted his biography I was amazed at how calculated and precise this man was. He virtually spoke for 50 minutes straight without a pause, hesitation or any kind of break.

At first I thought well he has probably given this speech many times so it all comes pretty easy to him now. Then I thought about his 35-year career with the FBI; maybe his training there transitioned him into this machine of a man. Then it all came to me. This guy is a natural. His success as a trickster, check forger, impostor and escape artist throughout the 1960s must be his God-given skill-set as a human being. As a young man he acted on his instincts to accomplish what he did.

“I’m no genius, if I was a genius I wouldn’t have broken the law to survive,” Abagnale said.

Abagnale closed his speech by discussing his life in its current state. He spoke about how grateful he is for his second chance in life and is most proud of the turnaround he was able to make. He ended the speech with a moral final statement.

“Life is very, very long. When you make a mistake, you have to live with that mistake for a long time. Those mistakes cause burden and they will come back to haunt you. They can never be forgotten or erased.”