Peter Berg '84 to speak at Commencement

By Anna Waugh

This year’s keynote commencement speaker will be Peter Berg ’84, writer, producer, actor and Emmy-nominated director for the television show “Friday Night Lights.””We are very pleased to have one of our own return to campus to help send our senior class on their next journey,” President Brian Rosenberg wrote in an April 1 College Relations press release.

According to the press release, Berg was born and raised in New York City. He was a dramatic arts major and performed in several college performances and local theater productions while at Macalester. He graduated in the same class as Hollywood talent agent Ari Emmanuel, the model for the character Ari Gold on HBO’s “Entourage.” The two friends later moved to LA together where they worked on catering trucks to pay the rent before achieving commercial success.

Berg has acted in scores of television shows and films, including four years starring as Dr. Billy Kronk on the medical drama “Chicago Hope” between 1995 and 1999. Though a 1998 review of his movie “Very Bad Things” by Roger Ebert said very bad things about it (“a reprehensible [movie]”), Berg’s press has improved in the last few years.

He acted in the 2004 film “Collateral,” in which he worked with Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise and he scored a spot as an SD-6 agent on ABC’s “Alias.” However, his main focus is producing and directing and Jada Pinkett Smith called him “a natural” director in USA Today.

Berg has directed films like “The Kingdom,” a 9-11 themed drama, and “Hancock,” a superhero movie starring Will Smith and Charlize Theron, due out this summer. He also works as a producer through his production company, Film 44, a Universal-based development that produced “The Kingdom” and “Friday Night Lights.”

“He’s a pretty good director, he doesn’t direct movies I like, but I’m mildly excited [he is the commencement speaker] because he’s the most successful theater person from Mac besides Dickson from ‘Alias,'” theater major Nisse Greenberg ’08 said.

Other students are more hesitant at the choice of having a person from the entertainment industry representing the culminating speech of their class.

“I thought Collateral was okay, but [Peter Berg] doesn’t make me excited about the commencement speech. It’s cool that it’s a Mac alum,” Aaron Heerboth ’08 said.

The commencement speaker is chosen each year from recommendations, made by a group of trustees, faculty, staff and students, to the President’s Office. In some cases, a person receiving an honorary degree from the college is chosen to speak at graduation.

“There are times when the [The Honorary Degree Committee], in recommending someone for an honorary degree, recommends that they be a commencement speaker also,” Provost Diane Michelfelder said. “But recommendations for the commencement speaker do not have to come through the honorary degree committee and often do not. In this particular case, the recommendation did not come through the HD committee.”

Retiring Philosophy professor Henry West and donor Bruce Dayton will receive honorary degrees this spring. West will receive his at graduation, and Dayton’s will be presented in connection with the groundbreaking of the IGC a week prior to graduation.

This will be the 119th Commencement at Macalester.