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UCLA replaces actor with rock star for commencement speech

Actor James Franco, who had become the target of an Internet protest, bows out at the last moment. Brad Delson, lead guitarist for Linkin Park, will step in.

June 09, 2009|Larry Gordon

Hollywood actor alumnus out. Rock musician alumnus in.

UCLA announced Monday that Brad Delson, lead guitarist for the popular rock-rap band Linkin Park, will step in to replace movie star James Franco as commencement speaker at Friday's graduation ceremony for the College of Letters and Science.

Delson, who earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies from UCLA in 1999, is a prime force in the Southern California-based band that has recorded platinum-selling albums and won two Grammy Awards.

Delson, who grew up in Agoura Hills, also is involved in philanthropy. Linkin Park established a nonprofit organization called Music for Relief to aid victims of world catastrophes and combat global warming.

And he and his wife started a UCLA scholarship fund that aids promising students from Huntington Park.

With only 10 days' notice, Franco last week canceled his UCLA speech, saying that his filming schedule required him to be in Ireland.

However, some students had conducted an Internet protest against his selection as speaker, contending that the star of "Pineapple Express" and "Milk" had not accomplished enough in life to be a role model for graduates. As a result, some people on campus wondered whether Franco was trying to avoid the controversy. His publicist denied that.

Franco first enrolled at UCLA in 1996 and soon left to pursue acting; he returned 10 years later to the Westwood campus and graduated last year with a degree in creative writing.

A committee of administrators, faculty and students turned to Delson after Franco withdrew, and officials expressed gratitude that Delson accepted the invitation on such short notice to address an audience expected to number 10,000 in Pauley Pavilion.

"Brad Delson is not only an innovative musician, but he is also a social activist who is committed to change through education," Judith L. Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, said in a statement.

Erin Moore, a graduating English major who started the Facebook campaign against Franco, had a mixed reaction to the choice of Delson. The musician did not fit her ideal of someone with a long, distinguished career, but she said his charity work and UCLA involvement were important.

"As a last-minute replacement, I am very happy to get him," she said.

Linkin Park's 2007 album "Minutes to Midnight" rose quickly to the top of the sales charts. The group won a Grammy in 2002 for best hard rock performance and shared one in 2006 with rapper Jay-Z for best rap collaboration.

A publicist said Delson was rehearsing for an upcoming Linkin Park tour and could not be reached for comment about his commencement speech.

UCLA officials asked Delson to include some comments about the meaning of his UCLA education and how it has mattered to him, according to Julie Sina, chief of staff for the College of Letters and Science.

This was the second year in a row of commencement speaker troubles at UCLA. Last year, former President Clinton canceled his speech because he did not want to cross picket lines of labor unions then embroiled in UC contract disputes. Clinton was replaced by a student government leader.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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