Due to a recent schedule change, LeVar Burton will no longer deliver the address at this year’s Baccalaureate Service. Burton, entertainer and host of Reading Rainbow, notified the College last week that he had made an acting commitment on May 31, the day of the service. Bob Lipp ’60, another honorary degree recipient, has agreed to speak in his place.
According to Jim Kolesar, assistant to the President for public affairs, Burton “felt professionally compelled” to take an acting job that will conflict with the Baccalaureate Service. “He was disappointed that that was the case,” Kolesar said. Kolesar added that in his 24 years at the College he could not recall another instance of a Commencement or Baccalaureate speaker changing after being announced.
With his change in plans, Burton broke no official agreement with the College. “There’s no written contract with Commencement honorees, including speakers,” Kolesar said. “They’re guests of the College, not providers of a service.”
Several students expressed disappointment that Burton would no longer be speaking over Commencement weekend. “It’s disappointing because Reading Rainbow was the highlight of my childhood,” said Nisi Zhang ’08.
“I’m going to force myself to enjoy anyone who speaks,” said Jared Oubre ’08 in reference to Lipp. “I just wish the administration would consider the diverse crowd that is listening. I don’t know if one of those traditionally successful stock market alums will offer that unique of a perspective.”
Burton’s booking agency could not be reached for comment.
In an e-mail, President Schapiro informed the campus of the change in speakers. “We are all disappointed by this news,” Schapiro said. Referring to Lipp, the President added, “We are extremely fortunate to have in the Williams family a person who has had an extraordinarily successful business career.” Lipp has served in senior positions at companies such as Citigroup, Travelers Insurance and JPMorgan Chase.
In his address, Lipp plans to emphasize the continuity of the Williams experience. “I’m going to use my personal experiences to talk to students about why a liberal arts education is so important to achieving a balance in your life,” he said.