Commencement Speaker Smackdown!

The first round of announcements regarding May college commencement speakers has wound down, and if you think college admissions are competitive, you should see the commencement-speaker arms race. Is our school’s smarter than yours? More famous? Better looking? We took the trouble to arrange the first 20 announcees according to overall desirability as we see it from here.



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Kanye West and Kim Kardashian at Wendy’s and Serafina In Philadelphia

On Saturday morning, someone posted this photo on Twitter showing Kanye West and Kim Kardashian hanging out on Friday night, supposedly at the Wendy’s at the corner of 15th and Chestnut in Philadelphia. West is in town for a show at the Wells Fargo Center. An attempt to verify the account directly with the Wendy’s resulted in the Wendy’s hanging up on me. Twice.

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Just Who Is Maria Papadakis?

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I’m roaming around a giant warehouse by the Delaware River, looking for Maria Papadakis.

Maria isn’t hard to spot when she’s onstage with a mic in her hand, her long blond hair spilling onto her bright blue dress. When she’s not onstage, like right now, I have more trouble. The event is called Feastival. Maria’s emceeing, and if there’s such a thing as Philadelphia society, much of it is here, swilling absinthe cocktails and clogging Pier 9 to the point of non-maneuverability.

Before I find Maria, I find her mother, Eliana Papadakis, who flashes a gap-toothed smile and gives me a hug. She tells me she’s just arrived from “the other event with Liam Neeson.” Eliana is the widow of beloved Drexel president Constantine “Taki” Papadakis, and a veteran of the philanthropic/charitable cause scene. She quickly cuts the chitchat and begins picking off VIPs.

“Richard! Richard!” Richard Vague is summoned. “Did you see Maria?”

“I did,” drawls the board president of FringeArts, which is what we’re celebrating tonight. “How could I miss her?”

“Did you like her?” Eliana asks.

“I love both of you,” he says, then floats off.

Moments later, Eliana spots Comcast matron Suzanne Roberts, treading slowly. “Suzanne! Suzanne! Oh my God!” Next up, Ed Rendell, distracted by two young women and not in the mood to talk. Retreating, Eliana whispers to Marsha Perelman, who has recently materialized: “He’s aged.” Her longest conversation takes place with Tom Knox, a Papadakis family friend who, along with 500 other people, was on the guest list at Maria’s wedding, which was held last November to great fanfare. (The marriage ended seven months later, to less fanfare.)

“He’s writing a story about Maria!” Eliana tells Knox, pointing to me. “Do you want to say anything about Maria?”

“She’s very pretty,” he says.

Eliana frowns.

“She’s very outgoing, attractive, she’s going to be very successful in life,” he adds.

I nod and tell him that many of her friends say she has the ability to accomplish whatever she wants to.

“Well, not whatever,” Knox says. “But most things.”

Feastival is precisely the sort of power-crowd schmoozefest Maria got acquainted with at the Drexel president’s mansion in Wayne. It’s also a good illustration of the professional niche she’s now carved out for herself. Since her father’s death in 2009, the 28-year-old has become an all-purpose cheerleader for the city, hosting a monthly arts expo, a video series on Philly.com, and a show for Comcast SportsNet. She’s also shooting episodes for a national TV program, the details of which are currently embargoed. Maria owes much of this success to her ubiquitous presence in society photographer HughE Dillon’s party pictures, which turned her into an object of gossipy fascination. “She was absolutely famous,” HughE says, “until I made her famous on a bigger scale.”

Famous is a relative term. In Philadelphia, it doesn’t take much to get there. Here’s one route: A society photographer decides that you’re a bona fide member of said society. He befriends you, makes you his muse. Hundreds of photographs later, your name and face have become inextricably lodged in the city’s consciousness, and the rest of the local media begin to play along. This dynamic is in full force at Feastival, where HughE Dillon of PhillyChitChat.com photographs Philly.com contributor Maria Papadakis and her soccer-player boyfriend Chris Konopka—their relationship was first reported by the Philadelphia Daily News, which is principally owned by the same guys who own Philly.com—and promptly sells the image to Philadelphia magazine, which sponsors Feastival.

All of this incestuousness makes it more or less impossible to figure out if Maria’s fame is, in fact, warranted. Is she a pretty blond legacy kid taking advantage of a celebrity-starved city? Or a bright girl squandering her impressive credentials by spending her time smiling for the camera? Put another way, does she owe her current station in life to the city’s insularity? Or is it Philadelphia that’s holding her back?

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio Was a Nobody in High School

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

My name is … Salvatore Anthony Nicholas Paolantonio. “Sal Pal” for short.

I was named after … my mother’s oldest brother, Salvatore Giardina, who served in the Army in World War II. He was legendary in my family.

I am a … reporter. My job is to find out new stuff and tell our audience about it. It’s really that simple.

I got my big break … when I got out of the Navy and was hired at the Albany Times Union. I was only at the paper 16 months when they sent me to cover the famine in East Africa, because I had been there for the Navy. Right after that, the Inquirer hired me.

My people are from … a little town called Calitri in Abruzzo, Italy. It’s a sheep-herding and farming town in the mountains. My grandfather came here in 1920 with his two brothers. The two brothers went back, and he stayed. Or else I’d be a sheep-herder.

When I was seven years old … we were all ducking and covering under our desks. Then Kennedy was shot. Thank God the Beatles showed up a couple of months later and gave us hope again.

When people don’t like what I have to say … they tell me about it, and I like that.

The next Philly team to win the championship will be … the Eagles. It’s easier to prevail in the NFL than in the other professional sport leagues. And they’ve just invested $30 million in Chip Kelly, so they’ve got no choice.

One bad habit I just can’t break is … ice cream. Chocolate water ice from Rita’s with vanilla ice cream in it.

People would be surprised to know … that I love to garden. I spend a lot of time planting flowers and weeding with my iPod in my ears.

My favorite Philadelphian … is Frank Rizzo, who embodied everything there was about the city.

The best Philly athlete alive today … is Chase Utley. Fundamentally great. Tough as nails. And instinctively knows what’s going to happen next. That’s rare. You can’t teach instincts.

If I owned the Eagles … I would make Ron Jaworski general manager. He’d win a Super Bowl in three years.

The farthest I’ve ever been from Philadelphia … is Diego Garcia, a Navy base in the Indian Ocean. I served from 1978 to 1983, and I spent the summer of 1981 chasing Russian submarines around the Indian Ocean.

I met my wife … in 1976, when I moved her into the dorm at SUNY Oneonta. I was the R.A.

Andy Reid was … respected but not revered. He got close but didn’t get the Super Bowl, and that’s how people will always remember him here.

My dad always told me … it’s not how you act; it’s how you re-act. In other words, don’t show on your face how your ass is getting kicked.

For Thanksgiving, I will … be working. We play NFL football on Thanksgiving. Just the nature of my job: I work on holidays. God bless my wife.

The most misunderstood Philly athlete of all time … would have to be Dick Allen, but only slightly ahead of Donovan McNabb. Not everybody gets to win a Super Bowl. Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl. And remember: As a human being, as a teammate, as a member of the community, there aren’t any players better than Donovan McNabb. He finished a game with a broken leg.

In high school, I was voted … nothing.

Machete Kills Danny Trejo Was on the Cherry Bomb Bus

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Machete Kills actor Danny Trejo got around town last night. We know he was at the Flyers game but he also made an appearance at the Ritz East movie theater. There, he and director Robert Rodriguez joined Christina Clark and Jennifer Zavala on the Cherry Bomb Bus. Trejo and Rodriguez hopped on the bus and housed some walking tacos and giant Mexican chocolate chip cookies.

The Cherry Bomb Bus was on hand to give out free tacos to customers who attended an advance screening of the movie.

Ashton Kutcher Comes to Penn, Talks Behind Closed Doors

ashtonHollywood big shot Ashton Kutcher came to Penn campus on Monday to give a big talk—but gave it behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the press.  The Daily Pennsylvanian reports: “For the event, Kutcher sat down with 1984 Wharton graduate Bobby Turner to discuss his career not only on the big and silver screens but also in the world of tech investing and children’s rights advocacy.” Luckily, Philadelphia Magazine had an undercover camera there:
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