By Samantha B. Bonar '90
It's not every day that you walk into your classroom to find that your guest lecturer is Alec Baldwin. Then again, not every day is April Fools' Day.
On April 1, the "30 Rock" actor pranked Jane Hong's 9:35 a.m. U.S. Culture & History II class by showing up for an impromptu lecture—dressed as Abraham Lincoln, no less (although some thought he looked more Amish than Lincolnian).
In the days prior to his visit—part of a nationwide "Best Day Ever" social media campaign sponsored by Chevy—Baldwin had collaborated with Hong through intermediaries as he prepared his remarks, asking her what she thought Lincoln would say about such contemporary issues as gay rights and women's rights.
When Hong, a first-year assistant professor of history, was approached to participate in the project a week earlier, "My initial reaction was one of disbelief, along with curiosity about what it would be like to have a celebrity visit my class and how students would respond," she says. "I had a phone conversation and sent emails back and forth with [Chevy's] writers in New York, and they were very thoughtful about making sure Mr. Baldwin's talking points fit with the content of my class."
A video production team outfitted Hong's Johnson 302 classroom with two hidden GoPro cameras to record the students' reactions. Hong explained the three young cameramen in the room to students by casually remarking that the College's admission office was shooting a video for prospective students.
Hong then began her lecture, about the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which found segregation to be unconstitutional. She said she had thought long and hard about who would make a good guest speaker to further discuss the issues raised by the case. Hong then exited the classroom, and Baldwin slowly walked in as students gasped in stunned amazement.
"To say I was surprised is an understatement," says Lily Schafer '18, an undeclared major from St. Paul, Minn. "We weren't expecting an Emmy-winning actor to walk in dressed as the 16th president. I was shocked, and I just started to laugh because of how absurdly wonderful it was."
Initially Baldwin spoke in character as Lincoln, comically chiding students for their lack of "indignation" and "protest" and for having their noses buried "in your Tinder and your Grindr." He also snuck in a self-deprecating quip: "There's one thing I dislike, it's all these actors regurgitating their opinions all day. I was killed by an actor."
In the least dramatic reveal ever, he then ripped off his fake beard and top hat, exposing his true identity. For the next 40 minutes or so Baldwin spoke extemporaneously to the class about such political subjects as campaign finance reform, energy policy, government corruption, and gay, women's, and civil rights, as well as about his own time as a college student and his personal history of activism.
Baldwin asked students if they had participated in any protests and what they would like to change about U.S. policy. He concluded by telling them they were "so lucky" to be going to be college, "and even though you're going to be poor, and you're going to be eating more fast food when you leave here because of college debt, you're going to be smarter"—pounding his fist on the podium for emphasis.
"He spoke longer than I had expected, but I knew him to be well informed on current events, and he totally was!" Hong says. "My students were completely surprised—it was 100 percent out of left field for them, but I think they genuinely enjoyed it."
While David Kimball '16, a history major from San Diego, admits to being "confused as to why Alec Baldwin was dressed as Abe Lincoln in our classroom," he was also OK with him talking about current political issues "because I think it is important that people, especially college students, be informed on what is happening in the world." Plus, he added, "My friends back home are jealous."
"It was one of those one-of-a-kind L.A. moments that only can happen here," Schafer says. "I felt a swell of school pride and was happy that I went to a place where something like this could take place."
Kimball concurs: "I will always remember the day Alec Baldwin came to my history class."