Valedictator: Lawn to get a dose of Colbert
Get ready, Nation. Funny-man Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, is coming to Mr. Jefferson's University to deliver the 2013 valediction keynote speech on May 18. But which Colbert will show up? The "well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot" he plays on the show or the guy who, along with his UVA alum wife, Evelyn McGee Colbert, funded a new Arts Scholars program in the UVA College of Arts & Sciences? Maybe both.
Certainly, the former Daily Show correspondent, and Hampden-Sydney College alum (which he attended before transferring to Northwestern University) is unpredictable, having famously lambasted President George W. Bush at a 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, run for president in 2008, and appeared before Congress in 2010 to testify, in character, about immigration reform.
As far as Colbert's UVA connections go, we have his wife to thank. She graduated in 1985, with a double-major in drama and English and performed at the Heritage Repertory Theatre. Outside of that, Colbert's other nod to Jefferson came in 2004, when the Daily Show team published America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, which had an introduction said to be written by Thomas Jefferson.
"I'm thrilled that Colbert is our speaker," says Priya Vithani, graduation committee chair for the class of 2013. "This has been a long anticipated event, and our class is very excited."
Vithani says she's not sure why Colbert decided to come this year, but she's confident he'll be providing some lasting memories, and laughs. The Hook attempted to reach Colbert's publicist to find out why Colbert accepted the invitation, but there was no response by press time.
Former Hook editor Hawes Spencer, who also attended Hampden-Sydney College, remembers Colbert from those days, as they were "distant colleagues" at The Tiger, the school's newspaper.
"I took over as editor the second semester of my freshman year and was desperate for good writers," says Spencer. "He was one. Unfortunately for me, he opted to pursue other interests that semester."
Spencer also remembers that his last name was pronounced COLE-bert, not COLE-bear, when he was at Hampden-Sydney, and suspects the current French-version pronunciation might be a homage to his father, who, according to Colbert, had always wanted the name pronounced as such, but didn't out of respect for his own father.
When Colbert was just 10 years old, his father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash, a tragedy he talked about in an interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, and one he said had taken him nearly a decade to overcome.
“I didn’t really feel the loss until I was in college," he told Winfrey. "Then, I was in bad shape. I was just so sad about it. I was 10 when they died. It’s only eight years later when you go to college. It seemed like a long time at the time, but now, at age 48, it seems like the blink of an eye.”
This weekend, we imagine, Colbert will have the crowd on the Lawn in stitches, but who knows. As anyone who has followed the comic's career knows, there's a fierce intelligence at work, with healthy doses of sadness and sarcasm, that often delivers biting, sober satire on the cultural and political world we live in.
Unlike Final Exercises on Sunday, May 19, at which former U.S. Senator Jim Webb will deliver the commencement address, no tickets are required to hear Colbert speak on Saturday at 11am.