Noted film and stage actor Christopher McDonald ’77, who recently performed alongside Oscar-winner Tom Hanks in the Broadway play “Lucky Guy,” will be the Colleges’ 2013 Convocation speaker. Associate Professor of History Laura Free will join McDonald to offer the faculty address. The annual ceremony, which brings together students, faculty and staff to celebrate the beginning of the academic year, will be held on Stern Lawn at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
In addition to McDonald’s remarks, he also will receive an honorary degree for a lifetime of achievements on the big screen, television and stage. It is the most prestigious recognition bestowed by the Colleges.
As one of the Colleges’ honorary degree recipients for 2013, McDonald joins Maureen F. Curley, president of Campus Compact, John Grotzinger ’79, the mission leader and project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory which successfully landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars, and Mara O’Laughlin ’66, who has dedicated more than 40 years of service to the Colleges in a number of roles, including as assistant vice president of institutional advancement for the William Smith College Centennial Fund.
Due to McDonald’s previously scheduled obligations on Broadway this past May, he was unable to attend HWS Commencement, the ceremony at which honorary degrees are traditionally conferred to recipients.
Described by the New York Times as one of the hardest working and most prolific actors in Hollywood, McDonald brings “legendary” characters to life with consistent acclaim. From “Thelma and Louise” to “Quiz Show” to “Happy Gilmore,” McDonald has worked opposite actors such as Adam Sandler, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton, and for directors like Ridley Scott, the Coen Brothers, Robert Redford, and Carl Reiner.
On television, McDonald has had starring roles on “Family Law,” “Veronica’s Closet” and “Cracking Up,” a recurring role in NBC’s legal drama “Harry’s Law,” and many single appearance roles. He also appeared in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” and in “Stargate Universe.” He has more than 80 films to his credit and reprised his role as Billy Flynn in the Broadway production of “Chicago” in 2008. He was winner of the 1982 Drama-Logue Best Actor Award.
At Hobart, McDonald played football, was goalie on Hobart’s varsity soccer team, was Song Master of the Kappa Alpha Society, and received his degree in English, cum laude. He studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the London Academy of Music and the Stella Adler Acting Conservatory in New York City.
Free has been a member of HWS faculty since 2005, and has also taught as an instructor, tutor and teaching assistant at Cornell University. At the Colleges, Free offers such courses “History of Women in American, 1600-1980,” “Civil War and Reconstruction” and “Bugles, Belles, and Bloated Bodies: The Civil War in American Memory and Culture.”
Free graduated with a B.A. in political science from Grinnell College, and received her M.A. in women’s history from Binghamton University. Free earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in American history from Cornell University.
Much of Free’s work focuses on how race and gender shaped ideas in regards to voting rights in 19th century America. Currently, Free is completing a history of how gender-specific language became a part of the 14th Amendment. Her book, tentatively titled “Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in Civil War America” will be published in 2014 by Cornell University Press.
The recipient of numerous grants, Free was awarded a HWS Faculty Research Grant and the Harry J. Brown and Ihlder Fellowships at Cornell University. She has presented her work at historical societies throughout the region, as well as national conferences including the American Studies Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
Photos above: Acclaimed film and stage actor Christopher McDonald ’77 (top image) and Associate Professor of History Laura Free, this year’s winner of the Faculty Teaching Prize, have been selected as two of the speakers for the 2013 Convocation.