Christopher Reeve, the actor and quadriplegic, wheeled onto the Salomon Center stage on a Friday night in late October to a long round of enthusiastic applause. The auditorium was filled to capacity with students and their parents, who had just arrived for Parents Weekend. Reeve, the father of Matthew '02, delivered the weekend's keynote address.
"As parents," he said, "we all have different ideas of what success means for our children." Some parents are happy if their kids don't panhandle or join a cult, he said, while others are satisfied only if they raise rocket scientists. Reeve believes it's most important for children to find a passion that can sustain them when they face adversity. Reeve, who was paralyzed after an equestrian accident in 1995, said it is his passion for acting that gets him through the times when he thinks, "Why am I sitting in this wheelchair. Why me?"
"There are certain things that I can't do," he said, "but I am very glad that I can look back and say, ԉI did find something that I was really passionate about.'"
Reeve said he admires the courage of young adults who admit they're still searching for the right career: "I think we as parents have to have the courage, really the generosity, to say: ԏOkay. I'm behind you. We support you in this.' "
During a question-and-answer period after his speech, Reeve talked about something else he's passionate about: human embryonic stem-cell research. "In the absence of strong leadership from the government," he said, there must be a grassroots movement demanding such controversial research. "Otherwise," he said, "it will be done overseas, and we'll become a second- or third-rate country in research."
He also gave advice to a wheelchair-bound student on how to improve wheelchair-accessibility at Brown. The best way to effect change at an inaccessible restaurant or theater, he said, is simply to show up. Once he went to a New York City restaurant, realized he couldn't wheel in, and waited at the front door. The manager came out, and Reeve said, "ԙYou know, I really would have liked to have dinner here. Maybe next time.' " A few months later, there was a wheelchair ramp. "So it's sort of like a one-man guerrilla force," he said.
Reeve concluded by urging parents and students to consider the possibility that on the way out the door, any one of them could slip and fall - and end up in a wheelchair. "The world is a very random place," he said. "Anything could happen to any of us. So doesn't that make us equals? We're all the same spirit in different bodies, that's all."