Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Brooklyn College 2008 Commencement Speaker: Leonard Lopate

Here's a treat for BC grads and their guests as well as NPR fans. BC Alum Leonard Lopate will give the 2008 Commencement address on May 29 at 10:00. The only problem is getting tickets for the event...Even graduates have trouble getting them for their families! There is however a webcast that can be found on the BC website.

From the 2008 BC Commencement Program:

Leonard Lopate, ’67


Leonard Lopate is a polymath, Renaissance man, and consummate interviewer in the media. Over the course of his career, he has been an artist, a novelist, and an advertising executive, and in 1977 he discovered his true calling in the world of radio. To his profession he brings his varied experience, his agile, inquisitive mind, and his wide range of knowledge, all of which have established him as an interlocutor extraordinaire, one of the most engaging and original personalities on the busy New York airwaves. Each weekday he burrows, quietly and intelligently, into the city’s - and particularly Brooklyn’s- cultural, social, intellectual, and political life.

Leonard Lopate and his brother Phillip grew up in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and East Flatbush neighborhoods. To blunt the edge of their sibling rivalry, they agreed in their teens to divide the creative world between them: Phillip would become a writer, and is now a respected essayist, novelist, poet, and teacher, and Leonard would become a painter.

At Brooklyn College, Leonard Lopate studied under Ad Reinhardt, among other luminaries. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he pursued a career as a painter, then turned to the literary arts, and subsequently to advertising, where he marketed records for country music singers Slim Whitman and Boxcar Willie. On a whim, Lopate auditioned for a job at WKCR, the
Columbia College radio station, and was hired to host a jazz show, which he did for about one year.

In 1977 his career in radio began in earnest—first, as the disc jockey for a gospel music show on WBAI-FM and then, on the same station, as the host of the weekly Round Midnight, a late-night talk show that invited listeners to call in for interview and discussion. There he discovered he could speak on art and literature, and on music, history, and politics, and could range from the general to the arcane.

In the mid-1980s he joined WNYC-AM, where he and veteran broadcaster Pegeen Fitzgerald cohosted the daily talk show New York and Company. His popularity earned him his own show, the Leonard Lopate Show, which airs every weekday at noon.

Throughout three decades on the air, Lopate, whom the New York Times has called a “conversational acrobat,” has interviewed poets, actors, physicists, novelists, comedians, chefs, building inspectors, and former presidents. Among his guests are former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Vice-President Al Gore, Nobel Prize and Academy Award winners, and a host of Brooklyn writers, such as Paula Fox, Kathryn Harrison, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, and Pulitzer Prize–winner Frank McCourt.

Lopate frequently appears at the 92nd Street Y, a New York mecca of discourse, where he interviews celebrities and is the panel moderator for his series, “Comparing Notes.” He serves regularly as the host and moderator of “Brooklyn on My Mind,” a reading discussion series held on the Brooklyn College campus. Under his guidance, the series focuses on the borough of Brooklyn as a community of writers and as a setting in fiction.

For his breadth of experience and expertise, informed by long and careful research, and for his insightful, penetrating, provocative, and always entertaining inquiry into the vastly varied life of a great city and the wider world, Brooklyn College honors Leonard Lopate with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

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