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Sunday, April 30, 2017
John Fleming

John Fleming

Photo: Denise Applewhite

Bradley Whitford

Bradley Whitford

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Fleming, Whitford chosen to address seniors

Longtime Princeton faculty member John Fleming will deliver the address at this year's Baccalaureate, and Emmy Award-winning actor Bradley Whitford will speak at the annual Class Day ceremony, leaders of the senior class have announced.

Fleming, the Louis W. Fairchild '24 Professor of English and Comparative Literature Emeritus, will speak at the interfaith worship service that is one of Princeton's oldest traditions on Sunday, June 3.

Whitford, who won an Emmy in 2001 for his role as Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on NBC's "The West Wing," will deliver the keynote address at the Class Day ceremony on Monday, June 4.

President Shirley M. Tilghman selects the Baccalaureate speaker after consultation with senior class leaders. In an e-mail to the class of 2007, class officers said they recommended Fleming because he "has touched the lives of many Princeton undergrads both inside and outside of his lectures and precepts. As our class was one of the last classes to be taught by him, we felt it only appropriate that some of our last bits of Princetonian wisdom come from him also. We could not think of a more eloquent scholar to deliver our Baccalaureate address."

Fleming transferred to emeritus status at the end of the 2005-06 academic year. He joined Princeton's English department in 1965, two years after earning his Ph.D. from the University. His teaching and research have focused on medieval English and European literature, medieval art history, and the history of Christian thought and spirituality.

From 1980 until he retired, Fleming taught the undergraduate survey course on Chaucer. Considered a rite of passage for English majors, the course enrolled some 100 students each semester it was offered. He also led freshman seminars and served as director of freshman seminar program. He earned two top Princeton honors: the Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities and President's Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Fleming also has been well known for his activities outside of the classroom. He served as the University's chief marshal, leading the academic procession at Commencement and calling the ceremony to order. He is the longest-serving college master in Princeton history, having been master of Wilson College from 1969 to 1972 and from 1989 to 1997. At the invitation of Princeton undergraduates, he wrote a column for The Daily Princetonian from 1996 to 2006.

Leaders of the senior class selected Whitford from among numerous nominees suggested by classmates for the Class Day speaker.

"In selecting a keynote speaker for Class Day, our primary focus was on who would give a speech that would really resonate with the senior class," said senior P.G. Sittenfeld, one of three Class Day chairs. "Students brought Mr. Whitford's name before us with a variety of compelling reasons. 'The West Wing' has been a formative show in many of our lives, and the number of Princeton students that Mr. Whitford's 'West Wing' character, Josh Lyman, has inspired to public service would make Woodrow Wilson himself proud."

Wilson, Princeton's 13th president, coined the phrase, "Princeton in the Nation's Service," in a speech during the University's sesquicentennial celebration in 1896 and again during his inauguration. The phrase, later expanded by Princeton's 18th President Harold T. Shapiro, became Princeton's informal motto.

Class Day organizers also noted that Whitford is admired for founding The Clothes Off Our Backs Foundation, an organization that raises money for children's charities by auctioning off celebrity attire.

Whitford attended Wesleyan University and earned a master's degree in theater from the Juilliard Theater Center. He appeared on "The West Wing" from 1999 to 2006, and now stars in NBC's new show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." He also has acted in films and on Broadway.

"For his success as an actor and commitment as a philanthropist, we are honored Mr. Whitford will be joining the senior class to help us celebrate the end of our college careers," class officers wrote in an e-mail to their classmates.

Class Day, which takes place the day before Princeton's Commencement, also will include student remarks, the induction of honorary class members and other special recognitions. The ceremony is scheduled to be held on Cannon Green, weather permitting, at 10:30 a.m. It is a ticketed event for seniors and their invited guests only.

Baccalaureate is an end-of-the-year ceremony also focused on members of the senior class. Beginning at 2 p.m. in the University Chapel, it includes prayers and readings from various religious and philosophical traditions. The earliest recorded Baccalaureate address -- titled "Religion and the Public Spirit" -- was delivered by President Samuel Davies in 1760 to the 11 members of the graduating class. Since 1972, the address has been given by a speaker chosen by the president after discussion with class leaders.

Seating in the chapel is limited to members of the senior class and faculty procession. Seniors receive two tickets for family and guests who may view the ceremony via simulcast, including on a large screen to be set up outside the chapel.

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