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Broadway veteran to speak at commencement ceremonies

May 3, 2007 By Barbara Wolff

"Out of my mother's womb, I knew I was going to be some kind of performer," actor André De Shields once told an interviewer.

He followed that star from Broadway to television to film. He has choreographed for Bette Midler and appeared with Fred Thompson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gene Hackman, Sam Waterston, Barbara Eden, Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad and many other instantly recognizable celebrities.

De Shields will address new graduates at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, during commencement weekend, Friday-Sunday, May 18-20.

De Shields began his theatrical career at UW–Madison, appearing in Stuart Gordon's infamous 1968 nude production of "Peter Pan." The following year, De Shields starred as El Gallo in the "The Fantasticks," Madison Civic Repertory's inaugural production. He made his professional debut that same year in the tribal love rock musical "Hair" at Chicago's Schubert Theatre.

A native of Baltimore, De Shields moved to New York in 1973. His Broadway credits include "The Wiz," "The Full Monty," his Emmy Award-winning performance in "Ain't Misbehavin'," Tony Award-nominated performances in "Play On!" and "The Full Monty" and many others. In honor of Madison's sesquicentennial last year he played the stage manager in the Madison Repertory Theatre's production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." Film credits include "Prison" with Viggo Mortensen and "Extreme Measures" with Hugh Grant. His television resume includes appearances on NBC's "Law and Order," "Great Performances" on PBS, "Cosby," "Sex and the City" and the daytime drama "As the World Turns."

De Shields was awarded an honorary degree from UW–Madison in 2004. He will speak at both the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. ceremonies on Saturday, May 19, and on Sunday, May 20. Honorary degrees will be awarded at the ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 18, along with all doctoral and professional degrees, and master of fine arts, master of laws, master of legal institutions, master of physical therapy and master of public health.

  • Degrees awarded at 10 a.m. on May 19: bachelor's and master's degrees in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the schools of Education, Human Ecology, Medicine and Public Health, Nursing and Pharmacy, and the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
  • At 2 p.m. on May 19: bachelor's and master's degrees from the School of Business and the College of Engineering.
  • At 10 a.m. on May 20: bachelor's and master's degrees from the College of Letters and Science, majors starting A through H (African languages and literature through history of science).
  • At 2 p.m. on May 20: College of Letters and Science bachelor's and master's degrees with majors I-Z (international public affairs through zoology).

About 5,000 students are eligible for degrees from UW–Madison each spring (the exact number changes daily, according to the Office of the Registrar). All ceremonies are held at the Kohl Center on Dayton Street and are free and open to the public. No tickets are required. Parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis in most university lots and on city streets. Alcohol, food and beverages are strictly prohibited. In addition, guests are asked not to bring strollers, coolers, thermos bottles, balloons, backpacks, large bags or luggage into the Kohl Center.

For more information, visit the UW-Madison commencement Web site, or call the commencement hotline, (608) 262-9076.