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Lebanon College Gets a Big-Name Supporter — Bill Cosby

Comedian Bill Cosby wears a Lebanon College sweatshirt during his appearance at the Lebanon Opera House. Cosby is a well-known supporter of community colleges. (Nancy Nutile-McMenemy photograph)

Comedian Bill Cosby wears a Lebanon College sweatshirt during his appearance at the Lebanon Opera House. Cosby is a well-known supporter of community colleges. (Nancy Nutile-McMenemy photograph)

Ron Biron barely had time to catch his breath after a long Friday morning commute to his job as Lebanon College’s president a few weeks ago when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a man best known for his wry, family-oriented humor. The caller is equally passionate about higher education, especially community colleges.

Biron quickly figured that the voice on the other end of the line was not that of a friend pulling a prank, but of Bill Cosby, the renowned comedian and beloved TV star. Ahead of his March 8 performance at the Lebanon Opera House, Cosby paid Biron a cold call to learn more about the programs offered at the private, two-year college, where many students are working adults. Cosby earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in the midst of his acting career and has been an advocate for community colleges nationwide, based on his belief that they can help lift students out of poverty.

Cosby “had heard a lot about us from his promoter and from some other people in the community,” Biron said last week. “Naturally, he was asking about local colleges and Lebanon College came up, and he was very interested in our school being a small community college and wanted to know more, and that’s when he reached out.”

During their 20-minute chat, Cosby invited Biron to the opera house’s green room for a meet-and-greet before the show. Over a dinner of sandwiches from nearby Salt hill Pub, Cosby learned more about Lebanon College from Biron and Jessica Johnson, the college’s admissions coordinator.

“He was really interested in what we do and the programs we ran, the type of students that we have and where the students go as far as transferring afterward for four-year degrees,” Biron said. “He was very much into what our business was all about here and who we serve as a community college.” Cosby was particularly impressed with the college’s allied health programs, Biron said, which are geared toward helping students find work in the region’s hospitals and nursing centers.

Onstage, Cosby donned a Lebanon College sweatshirt (he also signed one for a school fundraiser) and brought Biron onstage to introduce him and to talk briefly about the college.

Cosby’s visit with the college’s administration comes after a period of financial and administrative turmoil for the 57-year-old institution. Following the departure of former college president Graziella Saccon after a contentious 17 months on the job, Biron was hired last year to get the college on a better footing. One positive development is that the college was finally granted accreditation through the end of 2014 from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, after initially being denied it following a site visit last year. Having Cosby demonstrate an interest in the college has done a lot for morale, Biron said.

“It was just a real nice couple of hours to spend with an icon ... It was a great event and really nice for that man to reach out to our little college.”

Events

Thetford Academy students will perform The Fish, a new comedy by TA alumnus Sam Chapin, at 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow. The Fish is TA’s entry in a regional drama festival that will be held at the school on Saturday, and the cast and crew will welcome feedback from the audience following both shows shows ($5, adults; $2, students).

Achievements

Dashiell Andrews and Katherine Brechbuhl, both of Norwich, have received appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the Class of 2017, and will be able to choose between the schools. Andrews and Brechbuhl’s nominations for the service academies were recommended by U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch.

∎ Emily Ballou, an eighth-grade student at South Royalton School, placed second out of 42 participants in the Vermont State Individual Spelling Bee, a preliminary contest for the Scripps National Spelling Bee held at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester on Wednesday. Other area participants in the bee were Owen Deffner of Thetford Elementary School, Logan Garr of Westshire Elementary School, Grace LaFromboise of Bethel Elementary School, Connor Lambert of Tunbridge Central School, Raphael Orleck-Jetter of Thetford Academy, and Jessica Paterson of Dothan Brook School in Hartford.

Opportunities

The Central Vermont Adult Basic Education locations in Bradford and Randolph will offer GED testing sessions for adults looking to complete their high school education.

Testing sessions at the Randolph Learning Center will take place Thursday, with tests in social studies, science and reading at 3 p.m., writing at 5:30 p.m. and math at 6 p.m.

The Bradford Learning Center will hold tests on April 2, with social studies, science and reading tests at 11 a.m., writing at 1:30 p.m. and math at 2 p.m. Prior registration is required. Call the Randolph Learning Center at (802) 728-4492 or the Bradford Learning Center at (802) 222-3282.

School Notes appears on Tuesdays. Email news and announcements to kbryan@vnews.com.