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Spring 2017 commencement speaker will bring ‘a few laughs along with some good advice’

January 25, 2017 By Käri Knutson

Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy introduces Steven Levitan, the man who made him what he is.

There’s something funny about this year’s University of Wisconsin–Madison spring commencement speaker.

Steven Levitan, co-creator and executive producer of the ABC hit comedy “Modern Family” and a UW–Madison alum, will deliver the keynote at the May 13 ceremony at Camp Randall Stadium.

Levitan is an Emmy Award-winning producer who has been making television comedies for more than 20 years. A Chicago native, Levitan’s honors include nine Emmy Awards for writing, producing and directing, five Writers Guild Awards, two Humanitas Prizes, a Peabody Award, five Producers Guild Awards, a Comedy Writer of the Year Award, four AFI awards, two Television Critics Awards and a Directors Guild of America nomination.

He credits UW–Madison with helping him learn the skills and work ethic needed to succeed in Hollywood, and he says the many opportunities on campus helped him home in on the interests that would eventually become his career.

“We are thrilled to have Steven as our keynote speaker,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said. “He has had a very successful career in a tough and competitive business. As someone who is responsible for entertaining millions of people with his comedies, I also suspect this year’s graduates will get a few laughs along with some good advice.”

In 2015, Levitan was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor bestowed by WAA. Since 1936, WAA has presented the award to the most prestigious graduates of UW–Madison to recognize their professional achievements, contributions to society and support of the university.

As a journalism student at UW–Madison, Levitan was active in the Integrated Liberal Studies program and with Wisconsin Public Radio before graduating in 1984.

After earning his degree in communication arts in 1984, Levitan became a reporter for Madison’s ABC affiliate and then worked as a copy writer with the Leo Burnett advertising agency. But screenwriting was his real love, so he moved to Los Angeles and soon landed a spot on the writing team for the show “Wings.” Levitan later went on to write and produce “Frasier,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Back to You.” He also found success with the first show he created, “Just Shoot Me,” which went into syndication for seven years.

Commencement speakers are selected and recommended by senior class officers. The university covers the speaker’s travel expenses but does not pay a fee or other honorarium.

“The Senior Class Office sought to bring back a Badger who not only put the Wisconsin Idea into action, but who could also ignite a fire in graduates to create their own stories in the next chapter of their lives,” says Andre Hunter, Jr., senior class president.

More information about commencement weekend — including parking, school and college ceremonies, and answers to frequently asked questions — is available online, by phone at 608-263-2400 or by email at