SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - The 2004 Senior Class officers of Wittenberg University recently filled a "tall order." When selecting someone to deliver the address during the 159th Commencement ceremony set for May 15, they aimed big, as in Caroll Spinney, also known as Big Bird, who, when fully costumed, stands at eight-foot, two-inches tall. Spinney's yellow-feathered character just might be the tallest commencement speaker in Wittenberg's history. Master Puppeteer Spinney also portrays Oscar the Grouch on the classic PBS series.
The Class of 2004 Senior officers include President Colin Castle from Galloway, Ohio; Vice President Leah Krotine of Strongsville, Ohio; Secretary Noah Hutson from Upper Arlington, Ohio; and Treasurer Sarah Seidletz of Bowling Green, Ohio. In a letter of recommendation addressed to University President Baird Tipson, the officers wrote that they believe Caroll Spinney is a true example of the Wittenberg motto, "Having Light We Pass It On To Others."
"We believe Caroll Spinney is well-qualified to serve as commencement speaker because he has used his natural abilities in a constructive and service-based manner in order to help others reach their highest potential," the letter said.
The 69 year-old Spinney has worked for more than three decades at the same address: 123 Sesame Street. Named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress, Spinney joined the ranks of such notables as Bill Cosby and Barbra Streisand. He uses the power of the media to help children learn to read and write, which has earned him four Emmy Awards, two Gold Records and two Grammy Awards. Spinney's work reaches an audience of 10 million in the United States and thousands more in 148 countries worldwide. He has also performed in specials with Julie Andrews and Bob Hope, conducted orchestras and visited the White House by invitation.
Spinney studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Boston for three years and served in the United States Air Force for four years. He was five when he saw his first puppet and soon after held his first show in a neighborhood barn. He launched his television career in Las Vegas, where he created the show Rascal Rabbit in 1955. After stints at the Judy and Goggle Show and the Bozo the Clown Show, his big break came in 1969, when Jim Henson, of Muppets fame, saw Spinney perform at a puppetry festival in Salt Lake City. He invited him to join the experimental show, Sesame Street.
Spinney's book The Wisdom of Big Bird (And the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers is described as an inspirational memoir, intended for adults. As he writes in the book, "I might be the most unknown famous person in America."
After reading the book, one online reviewer said, "It's the closest Muppet fans have ever been to a Muppeteer, and it's a must for the bookshelf of any fan of the magic of puppets and the longest-running children's program."
Henson, creator of Sesame Street, once acknowledged Spinney as "the only genius I've ever known." Spinney took a pay cut when he quit Boston TV to work on Sesame Street. He almost quit after the first season and writes in his book, "Sometimes you don't recognize what you have is what you've always wanted."
Wittenberg's graduating class of 2004 might want to listen intently as Spinney shares his wisdom. They could learn the inside secret to 13 very important words, 'can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?'
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