Yo, Grads! Listen Up!

From sea to shining sea, keynote celebs provide last-minute motivation to the mortarboard set

Focus
'Tis the season, once again, for celebrity commencement speakers. Goldie Hawn took to the podium at American University, telling students, "A baby smiles an average of 72 times a day. Some people wonder where it goes as we grow up." The indefatigable Bill Cosby spoke at eight different colleges, urging students to "just listen and hear" what family and friends are thinking.

You could spend four years and $100,000 to hear what the famous have to say. Or you can just read Scoop's condensed guide to commencement wisdom.

Affleck's Sox Appeal

It's not often that movie stars get to be critics. So when diehard Boston Red Sox fan Ben Affleck, 29, was invited into the broadcasting booth by BoSox announcers Sean McDonough and Jerry Remy for a game against Toronto on May 27, the actor cut loose. A little too loose, if you ask Sox reserve infielder Lou Merloni, who bore the brunt of Affleck's potshots. "He tore me apart," complained Merloni, 31, in the Boston Herald. "After my first hit, it was, 'Miracles never cease.' That was bad." Merloni took a swipe at Affleck's big-screen batting average, saying the star had peaked in Good Will Hunting.

Days later the major league flap lost its heat. Affleck groveled to Merloni on McDonough's radio show, saying, "You've got to let me take you out to dinner or find some supermodels." Merloni accepted the apology and said he may have "overreacted."

In the interest of good sportsmanship, however, Scoop felt it was only fair to let Merloni have a whack at Affleck's latest pitch: We invited him to screen the actor's new action flick, The Sum of All Fears, and give us his review. The call? Safe! "I thought it started out kind of slow and then picked up," says Merloni, who was intrigued by the film's "one guy saves the world" theme. Affleck "did a good job," he says, adding, "But being a baseball player, I'd never think of critiquing another profession."

For Bette, Home Tweet Home
Bette Midler may not be the wind beneath their wings, but to many birds she may soon be the water beneath their feet. Midler, 56, is working with the Department of Agriculture and the conservation group Ducks Unlimited to convert a portion of her 1,400-acre estate in Kauai into wetland habitat for Hawaiian waterbirds, including stilts, ducks, coots and gallinules. Midler, raised on Oahu, bought the property—which had been drained and used to grow sugarcane—in 1999 for $4.4 million. Details of the plan, which would allow Midler to retain ownership but give up the right to put the land to other use, are not complete, but Midler seems committed. Says Mimsy Bouret, a friend and real estate agent for the property: "Bette's the type who walks along the beach and picks up trash."

Launch Bass?
Will 'N Sync's Lance Bass boldly go where no pop star has gone before? Maybe. Bass, 23, who first proclaimed his intragalactic intentions in February, hopes to secure a seat on a Russian rocket in October. "I'm an optimist," the singer said at a May 31 press conference in Moscow, where he was certified fit for space travel at the Institute for Biomedical Problems. But Russia's space agency says he has not formally applied. And the competition could be fierce. Says an institute rep: "We had our own [Russian] boy band, Na-Na, here to do test, and they all passed as well." If it comes down to a battle of the bands, Bass fans likely hope Russia's answer will be Na-Na, nyet.

May the Best Friend Win

After eight years of haggling for million-dollar contracts together and ensuring equal airtime, the Friends stars have made a radical move. With the show going into its final season as the No. 1-rated sitcom, the gang voted to go head-to-head for Emmy consideration in the lead acting categories. Until now they have "always considered themselves supporting actors" in an ensemble, says a Warner Bros. rep. Who should win? Scoop put the question on PEOPLE.com, and tallied 4,730 votes. The results:

BEST ACTOR

Matthew Perry 48%
Matt LeBlanc 36%
David Schwimmer 16%

BEST ACTRESS

Jennifer Aniston 59%
Lisa Kudrow 27%
Courteney Cox Arquette Arquette 14%

POP QUIZ

with Tom Brokaw

"The fact is I'm going to be here for another couple of years," says NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. Still, word that he'll step aside at the Nightly News for Brian Williams in 2004 has many buzzing about the state of the network newscasts. Brokaw gave the scoop to Scoop.

NBC announced a big change, and yet we'll still have three national newscasts anchored by white males. Why?

I do think there's more need for diversity, and we've been working very hard here at getting people from different backgrounds on the air. Ann Curry does the news on the Today show. Soledad O'Brien, who has this wonderful mix of ethnic backgrounds, does a lot of our reporting.

Yet at the top, it still looks like the old boys' network.

I think there's no question that we need to work harder at having women as authority figures. But society is still having a little trouble coming to grips with that, I think.

NBC used the word "retirement" to describe your career change.

That is too strong a phrase. I'm going to step down from the Nightly News chair and then do other things.

Why change?

Being anchor is a wonderful position, but there's a kind of short leash as well. You have to be somewhere on the air at 6:30 every night.

So what's next?

I'm producing and reporting on a lot of one-hour documentaries, and I would like to concentrate more on that.

With the same vigor?

I'm now 62, but I'm pleasantly surprised by how much energy I have s both intellectually and physically.

Your salary and contract particulars were off-limits at the press conference announcing your job change. Wouldn't you ask about that?

Those are questions I would ask. Those are also the questions that I would not answer.

ON THE BLOCK

DWELLING DOWN UNDER

Paul Hogan can view his old stomping grounds from a new perch. The actor, best known as the rugged Australian adventurer Crocodile Dundee, recently spent $5 million for waterfront property in the ritzy Sydney suburb of Vaucluse, with a partial view of the same Sydney Harbour Bridge he worked on as a rigger more than 40 years ago. Hogan, 62, and his wife, Dundee costar Linda Kozlowski, 44, who have a 3-year-old son named Chance, are selling their mansion near Byron Bay, where they were married in a 1990 ceremony.

Brokaw plans to step aside in 2004 after 21 years as sole anchor. "A long time," he says. "I'm a slow learner."

  • Contributors:
  • Ting Yu,
  • Greg Adkins,
  • Jennifer Wren,
  • Juliet Butler,
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Michael Fleeman,
  • Sandra Lee,
  • Gary McKechnie,
  • Colleen O'Connor,
  • Kristi Patton,
  • Ellen Piligian,
  • Tim Ryan,
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Marisa Wong.