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Shatner and May: Who’s Asking the Questions?!

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on May 14, 2019 in University

After his appearance on campus last weekend, William Shatner knows what a chancellor does, but he still has questions about the concept of space-time.

In a Chancellor’s Colloquium Saturday night (May 11), the actor and Chancellor Gary S. May engaged in a freewheeling question-and-answer session in the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, entertaining an audience of more than 1,000 people. The evening had started with a screening of the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — a continuation of the television series in which Shatner brought Capt. James T. Kirk to life.

“Can I ask you, Gary, what does a chancellor do?” Shatner asked to open the talk.

Chancellor Gary S. May poses for a photo with William Shatner.
Chancellor May poses backstage with Shatner, one of the people responsible for inspiring the chancellor to go into engineering. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

May, a stack of note cards in hand, replied: “I thought I was going to be asking the questions, but since you asked, the chancellor is like the combination of the high school principal and the mayor of the university.”

Shatner is touring the country showing The Wrath of Khan and telling stories from his career, but UC Davis was more than another date on his calendar. Shatner said he and his wife brought their dog, Starbuck, to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012 for treatment of a liver tumor.

“The last time I was here I had a dog that was dying,” Shatner said. “I brought him up to Davis and he lived.”

With each question, Shatner would launch into humorous tales like one about Starbuck digging up a dead pet from someone’s yard, the prank he and Leonard Nimoy played on their fellow Star Trek co-star DeForest Kelley, and how Shatner’s penchant for racing cars affected his early-morning drives to the set of The Wrath of Khan.

Shatner also tested May’s academic aptitude, quizzing him on the author of The Iliad (when May correctly responded “Homer,” Shatner said the chancellor must have paid a recent visit to the English department) and on the concept of space-time (May joked that physicists like to make simple things confusing).

The event brought out diehard Starfleet devotees as well as people like Davis native and San Francisco State University student Ryan McNeil, whose only exposure to Star Trek has been through the recent series of films produced or directed by J.J. Abrams.

During the film screening, audience members gasped at early foreshadowing and cheered loudly when Shatner bellowed “Khan!” at his nemesis.

“It’s good to see it with a community of Trekkies — fellow believers,” said Elk Grove resident Bob McCoy, who wore a Star Trek cap while his wife donned a Trek T-shirt. “It feels like you’re part of a community.”

El Dorado resident Ann Giovacchini, who, along with her husband has spent the last three years watching every Star Trek film and TV series in preparation for the franchise’s official convention this summer in Las Vegas, said she cried when ... spoiler alert ... a key character died — a scene made all the more emotional by the reaction from fellow audience members.

“The quiet and silence when Spock died — that was moving,” she said.

Her husband, Pete Roffers, said he is a longtime fan of the franchise because of what it represents.

“Diversity, inclusion and hope — that’s the key that has kept it going,” he said.

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About the author(s)

Cody Kitaura Cody Kitaura is a content provider and strategist with Strategic Communications at UC Davis. He can be reached at 530-752-1932 or