Actor Christopher Reeve has been chosen to give the main address at the 210th Williams College commencement on June 6, 1999.
During his career Reeve has appeared countless times on stage, television and film. Among his most famous roles are Superman, Ben Harper in the television series Love of Life, and the Broadway play A Matter of Gravity with Katharine Hepburn. In total, Reeve has appeared in 20 films, a dozen TV movies and 75 plays.
At age 15 Reeve began working as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theater Festival (WTF). Throughout the subsequent years he has been known to make every effort to attend WTF during the summer. Among the plays he performed in at the festival are Holiday and The Guardsman.
Famous for his athletic ability, Reeve performed his own stunt work. His athletic career was cut short, though, by a tragic equestrian accident in 1995 which left him a quadriplegic.
Despite his injuries, Reeve has continued to work, breathing with the help of a ventilator. Reeve told the New York Times “Sitting around doing nothing isn’t for me.”
Since the accident Reeve has received the 1999 Grammy Award for “Best Spoken Word” for his reading of his book Still Me, the 1999 Best Actor Screen Guild Award for his performance in ABC’s Rear Window and he directed the television movie In the Gloaming which starred Glen Close and Whoopie Goldberg.
After his accident, Reeve became a vocal spokesperson for the disabled. As chairman of the American Paralysis Association and vice chairman of the National Organization on Disability, Reeve told the 1996 Democratic National Convention that he is confident that with “will and determination” the same country which put a man on the moon can find a cure for brain and nervous system disorders.
Reeve is backing legislation in Congress which would force insurance companies to raise the limit of catastrophic injury coverage.
According to Director of Public Affairs Jim Kolesar, the commencement speaker is selected from among the recipients of honorary degrees. Each year, the President of the college community has the opportunity to “make such nominations of people who represent distinction in their particular fields of endeavor.”
A committee which consists of faculty, trustees and students then goes through the nominations and selects a group on degree recipients in several fields, including arts and sciences, the public and private spheres, business and philanthropy.
Kolesar said that by consensus the committee will then choose the commencement speaker from the group of honorary degree recipients “who is thought to have particularly interesting ideas and ways of expressing them.”
Sarah Houghton, who works for Reeve, said that she is unable to discuss the speech topic because Reeve “formulates material and ideas,” but he does not give an advance title because “that’s just the way he works.”