This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Photo credits: Todd Shapera ’79

Vassar College Confers 602 Bachelor’s Degrees; Lisa Kudrow ’85 Delivers Commencement Address

On Sunday, May 23, President Catharine Hill presided over the 146th Vassar College commencement ceremonies, conferring Bachelor of Arts degrees to 602 graduating students on the grounds of the college’s outdoor amphitheater. Vassar also bestowed a bevy of honors: 59 students were elected to Phi Beta Kappa for overall academic achievement, 26 graduates were elected to the Sigma Xi national honor society for the sciences (4 were selected for both Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi), 121 graduates were awarded general honors, and 239 graduates earned departmental honors. The college’s Phi Beta Kappa Prize for 2010 was awarded to Sabrina Schmidt (Mathematics and Italian) and Lauren Elizabeth Sherman (Music and Psychology).

Award-winning actress and producer Lisa Kudrow ’85, a Vassar alumna and trustee, delivered the commencement address, explaining her seemingly unlikely trajectory from a biology major, who had planned to work with her father on headache research before catching the acting bug. “I was never in a play. I don’t think I ever really saw a play [at Vassar],” the actress told the graduates. “Then during my senior year at Vassar when I was home for spring break, I was driving around L.A. and heard a promo for a sitcom on the radio. They'd play their best joke from the show and I remember hearing in my head, ‘Oh, God, that's not funny. They punched the joke too hard.’" This happened over and over again as Kudrow observed the work of others. Her keen instinct for comedy led her, in November of 1985, to declare her interest in acting. Her classmates, she recalled, were shocked, but “polite and supportive.”

“I was weirdly confident...for no reason at all,” she told the audience. “I just listened to that inner voice.” That voice kept her resolute, she said, when agents told her she didn’t fit the typical “beauty” profile of Hollywood stars, when her first pilot did not get picked up, when she lost a place in the cast of Saturday Night Live to Julia Sweeney, and when she was fired from the first season of Fraser. Her friendship with the “nimble improviser” Conan O’Brien, whom she met while taking her first improv class with the Groundlings comedy theater company in L.A., also helped, she said.

Kudrow’s persistence paid off. Her first major television role was in 1993 when she was cast as Ursula on the series Mad About You. Her now famous role as Phoebe on Friends followed the next year. She credited the standards ingrained at Vassar with helping her to achieve this success. “I carried those high standards that were nurtured in me here all along the way. I knew what was good and that's what I did and will always try to achieve...good work.” With writer and producer Dan Bucatinsky ’87, a fellow Vassar alumnus, Kudrow formed the production company Is or Isn't Entertainment in 2003. The company produces the popular NBC documentary Who Do You Think You Are, which traces the genealogy of a celebrity in each episode.

June 2010

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