Award-winning comedian, writer and actor Patton Oswalt ’91 will speak at William & Mary’s Commencement ceremony on May 19.
Oswalt, who is known for such roles as Spence on the TV show “King of Queens” and the voice of Remy in the movie “Ratatouille,” will receive an honorary degree at the event, scheduled for 7 p.m. in Zable Stadium. Henry C. “Hank” Wolf ’64, J.D. ’66, a former W&M rector and retired chief financial officer of Norfolk Southern, will also receive an honorary degree.
Oswalt has received multiple awards for his wide-ranging work, including Emmy and Grammy awards. He recently co-created the Hulu series “M.O.D.O.K.” and co-starred on the NBC comedy “A.P. Bio.” Wolf has been a stalwart supporter of William & Mary throughout the years. His generosity has supported scholarships at the university, especially W&M Law School, whose library bears his name, and the Muscarelle Museum of Art.
When asked about giving the Commencement keynote at his alma mater, the comedian, quick to show his Williamsburg knowledge, simply stated, “I would like a bag of bread ends and dip from the Cheese Shop for my services. Thank you.”
Year of the Arts
Both honorary degree recipients have strong ties to the arts, which is fitting this year as the university anticipates a significant transformation in campus facilities for its Arts Quarter. The new fine and performing arts facilities are expected to open this fall, with dance joining theatre in the newly renovated Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall and music moving into its own new building. Construction continues on The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts, which will house the expanded Muscarelle Museum of Art when completed late next year.
“We have in Patton Oswalt and Hank Wolf two superstar alumni,” said William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe. “They have flourished in entertainment and law, starting from a wide-ranging liberal arts preparation. As leaders in our community, they have answered alma mater’s call so often – to lift the next generation of entrepreneurially minded professionals.
“We are especially proud to honor these creative alumni during W&M’s Year of the Arts.”
Along with Oswalt and Wolf, W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, will attend the Commencement ceremony and provide brief remarks.
Tickets, which are provided to graduating students, are required to attend. However, the ceremony will also be livestreamed.
Patton Oswalt ’91
Oswalt started performing in comedy clubs as a student at William & Mary, where he wrote for The Flat Hat and was a member of Phi Kappa Tau and the fencing club. After graduating with a degree in English, he embarked on a career in entertainment, earning accolades for his more than 200 TV and film credits as well as comedy specials and books.
Throughout the years, he has filmed eight TV specials and released seven comedy albums. In total, he has been nominated for six Grammys and four Emmys, with his first Grammy nomination coming in 2009 for the album “My Weakness is Strong.” His latest comedy special, “I Love Everything,” appeared on Netflix in 2020 and earned him an Emmy nomination. He previously received Emmy and Grammy nominations for “Annihilation,” an album and Netflix special. He received an Emmy in 2016 for “Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special” for the comedy special “Talking for Clapping,” and he received a Grammy the next year for the album of the same name.
Oswalt has also been prolific as an actor, appearing in such films as “The Circle,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Zoolander,” “The Informant,” “Observe and Report,” “Magnolia” and “Starsky and Hutch,” among others. He received critical acclaim and a Gotham Award nomination for his part in “Big Fan,” and he was nominated for a Critics Choice Award for his role in “Young Adult” with Charlize Theron.
On TV, he can be seen in leading roles on shows ranging from “The Heart, She Holler” to “The United States of Tara.” He has also appeared on such series as “Parks and Recreation,” “Veep,” “Justified,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Seinfeld,” where he made his acting debut. He recently competed on “Celebrity Jeopardy,” finishing the tournament in second place and earning $250,000 for the nonprofit Alice’s Kids.
His voice can also be heard in many animated films and shows, including “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” “Rick and Morty” and “Archer.” And he is the voice of the narrator on the ABC series “The Goldbergs.”
Throughout the years, Oswalt has remained closely connected to the university. He recently provided a video message to the Class of 2020 during its virtual degree-conferral ceremony. The next year, he collaborated with Alma Mater Productions to present a virtual “Night with Patton Oswalt” for students.
Henry C. Wolf ’64, J.D. ’66
Wolf graduated from W&M with a degree in economics before pursuing his law degree at the university. He started his career in law in the U.S. Army, where he served for four years and achieved the rank of captain. He next served as a law clerk for the U.S. Tax Court and an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service before embarking on a long career with Norfolk Southern. Throughout his 34 years with the company, Wolf rose through the ranks, ultimately becoming its vice chairman and chief financial officer, retiring in 2007.
Wolf was first appointed to the W&M Board of Visitors in 2003 and reappointed in 2007. He was elected as vice rector in 2006 and rector in 2009, becoming the first Jewish rector in the history of the university. He was also a board member of the William & Mary Real Estate Foundation from 2007 to 2022, serving as chair the last two years. In 2010, he spoke at the university’s Opening Convocation ceremony.
He has remained a strong supporter of his alma mater throughout the years. In 2014, he and his wife, Dixie Davis Wolf, gave $3 million to establish the 1779 Scholars Fund for student scholarships at William & Mary Law School and to create The Wolf Gallery at the university’s Muscarelle Museum of Art. The couple also provided a generous gift to support the W&M Law School’s library construction project.
In 2006, W&M Law School gave Wolf honorary membership in Order of the Coif, a national honor society that recognizes intellectual and professional accomplishment. Wolf is also an emeritus member of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Council. In addition to his service to W&M, Wolf has been active in a number of other community organizations and institutions of higher education. He is a former member of the Board of Visitors at Eastern Virginia Medical School and has also been on the boards of AGL Resources, Inc., and Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. Wolf also previously served as a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and was elected as its chair in 2016. He is now chairman emeritus.
Erin Jay, Senior Associate Director of University News