Vanna White makes surprise visit to online communication class

by | Apr 16, 2020

The Wheel of Fortune star dropped in on a Zoom meeting of Associate Teaching Professor Jill Alexander's Introduction to Public Speaking course.
Vanna White

Wheel of Fortune star Vanna White made a surprise appearance in Jill Alexander’s Introduction to Public Speaking class held last week via Zoom. (Screenshot courtesy of Jill Alexander)

One of the students in Associate Teaching Professor Jill Alexander’s Introduction to Public Speaking course at the University of Missouri–St. Louis was in the middle of delivering a presentation via Zoom last week when a surprise guest interrupted her.

While many of the students quickly recognized Vanna White from seeing her turning letters on their television screens throughout their lives as part of Wheel of Fortune, one had to confirm what his eyes were telling him.

Holding up a laptop screen containing Google search results for her name in front of his webcam, he said, “Wait, you’re her?”

“Yep, that’s me,” said White, laughing. “Yeah, this is my at-home look. … I’m the one that’s up there, that started turning those letters about 37 years ago.”

White, dropping in from her home in California with her daughter Gigi, a college student at New York University, proceeded to take questions from students about the show.

About the more than 7,000 dresses she’s worn on the show over the years.

“My dresses can range from $29 to probably $7,000,” she said. “It just depends. Obviously, those full-length, sequin gowns are very expensive and they’re by famous designers, but I’ve worn some dresses that you could get pretty much anywhere. … I don’t get to keep my clothes. They all have to go back to where they came from – mostly designers.”

About filling in as host last fall when Pat Sajak had emergency surgery.

“I was very stressed because it happened so quickly,” White said. “I didn’t have a chance to even react. I just had to do it without any experience whatsoever other than what Pat for 37 years. But when I watched him, I was concentrating on my puzzle board, not what he was doing.”

About her favorite memory from the show.

“One of my favorite memories was when a guy won a brand new car, and he turned to Pat and said, ‘I don’t have to take the bus anymore,’” she said. “So it changed his life, and we’ve changed a lot of people’s lives. Obviously, they win lots of money, and they will pay off student loans or buy their first house. Some of them will also start charities, so it all goes to good causes.”

Alexander recorded the session, and posted an edited version, including those and other questions, to YouTube. It has received more than 2,400 views since Sunday.

KSDK (Channel 5) posted a story about her appearance on its website on Monday.

To solve the puzzle of how White’s appearance came to be, one needs to consult Alexander.

It all started a little over two weeks ago.

“If you remember, it was very gray and gloomy for days and days and days,” Alexander said. “It was the first two weeks that we were all home, and watching my students, it was kind of like watching the air go out of a balloon. They needed something to cheer them up.”

Alexander, an avid consumer of news and social media, had seen reports of actor Matthew McConaughey dropping in on a Zoom class at his alma mater, the University of Texas. She began brainstorming what celebrities she might be able to contact to try to arrange a similar surprise.

In her previous professional life, Alexander served as the senior director of corporate communication for a casino company that owned 15 properties in seven states.

Vanna White, Jill Alexander

Associate Teaching Professor Jill Alexander (center) first met Vanna White (left) along with KWQC anchor Paula Sands at an event marking the 25th anniversary of a casino in Bettendorf, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Jill Alexander)

Not long before Alexander joined UMSL’s Department of Communication and Media three years ago, one of the properties in Iowa celebrated its 25th anniversary. White had appeared at the grand opening in 1991, and Alexander and her colleagues arranged for her to be on hand again a quarter century later.

Working through Wheel of Fortune’s publicists, Alexander eventually connected with White directly.

“I found myself back then having an email conversation with Vanna White about what she should wear,” Alexander said. “I remember thinking this was like an out of body experience, being deep in conversation with a woman who wears extraordinary clothes every day.”

Alexander later drew the assignment of picking White up at the airport, dropping her back off at the airport and managing her time at the casino in between. She found White to be warm and down to earth.

So, when she was thinking about high-profile people, she recalled having White’s email address. Alexander messaged White and asked if she’d be willing to drop in.

“She responded back, ‘Yes, I remember you. Yeah, I’d love to do,’” Alexander said.

Her noon class worked best for White, two hours earlier in California, so she sent her the link to the Zoom meeting.

Alexander didn’t tell any of her students it was happening.

Junior Greg Davidson shared his reaction on Twitter.

“It was a great story,” Alexander said, “and they all did say they’ll remember being Zoom bombed by a celebrity.”


Media Coverage
KSDK (Channel 5)

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