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URBANA — It’s not a former president or first lady, but how about Ron Swanson?

This may be no surprise to Twitter followers of @Illinois_Alma, but: the University of Illinois formally announced Tuesday that actor and comedian Nick Offerman will be this year’s commencement speaker on May 13.

"The university is called the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, although it’s located in the community of Champaign-Urbana," Offerman said in a video posted on Facebook and Twitter. "I hope to explore this and other mysteries when I speak to you at your commencement this year, 2017. And thank you in advance for having me. See you soon."

Offerman, a UI theater alum, portrayed the popular government-hating character Ron Swanson on the TV series "Parks and Recreation," which also starred Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari.

Former President Barack Obama, the target of an enthusiastic recruiting campaign for commencement this year, was apparently a "no," deciding to make his first public appearance as ex-president at the University of Chicago instead.

The UI teased Offerman’s selection with a series of tweets starting last week, when speculation about Obama was still circulating, suggesting that commencement tickets would be a hot commodity.

And in a few replies to questions from Twitter followers, @Illinois-Alma tweeted video outtakes of Obama.

But subsequent tweets zeroed in on the "Parks and Rec" theme, including shots of Poehler and Ansari.

Monday’s clue featured a pagoda at Japan House built by Offerman, an accomplished woodworker, in honor of his mentor, Japan House founder Shozo Sato: "Nice day outside to sit and reflect on your time at #ILLINOIS and who our #ILLINOIS2017 speaker could be ..."

Offerman visited the UI for an April 1 fundraiser at Japan House, which was built in 1998, five years after he graduated. The two have remained close since Offerman left the UI. Sato officiated at the 2003 wedding ceremony of Offerman and Emmy Award-winning actress Megan Mullally. Offerman flew to Illinois for Sato’s final Kabuki performance there, and recently dedicated his newest book to Sato, "Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop."

A Minooka native who also plays guitar, Offerman has returned frequently to perform in Champaign-Urbana, including a one-man show at the Virginia Theater in November.

He was already scheduled to be on campus May 13 for a Japan House event.

Commencement is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).