More than 1,300 degrees were conferred at Emerson’s 131st Commencement exercises, held May 16 at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre in Boston.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard LaGravenese delivered the 2011 undergraduate Commencement address during the morning ceremony, at which nearly 950 bachelor’s degrees were awarded.
LaGravenese, a member of Emerson College’s class of 1980, has written numerous acclaimed screenplays, including The Fisher King, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1992, The Ref (written with Emerson classmate Denis Leary ’79), The Bridges of Madison County, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Horse Whisperer, and Beloved. He has also written and directed several films, including Living Out Loud, Freedom Writers, and P.S. I Love You. He wrote the screenplay for the current hit movie Water for Elephants.
During his speech, LaGravenese offered advice to the graduates. He stressed the importance of originality. “Don’t follow; set trends; lead us,” he said. “A culture needs creative people to tell our stories.”
He also talked about taking risks. “You cannot succeed at anything you’re not willing to fail at,” he said. “It sounds like a greeting card, but it’s true!”
Receiving honorary degrees at the ceremony today were LaGravenese; faculty member and trustee Kevin Bright ’76; journalist, playwright, and activist Janet Langhart Cohen; Emerson College president Jacqueline Liebergott; and philanthropist and trustee Marillyn Zacharis.
During his valedictory address, journalism graduate Alex Spanko spoke about the significance of the liberal arts foundation at Emerson and told students not to lose sight of the world outside their specialties. He relayed the advice one of his teachers gave him: “Learn a little bit about a lot of things.”
At the afternoon ceremony, Clifford Christians, professor emeritus in the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the former director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at the University, addressed the 370 master’s degree candidates.
Christians spoke of “a moral order” and the importance of using communication tools and art forms to explain and exemplify our moral values. “Since our public life is not merely functional, but knit together by social values,” he said, “moral literacy ought to be privileged as the media’s mission. Communications in all its professional forms should stimulate the moral imagination.”
Christians, along with broadcast news reporter Janet Yuen-Mei Wu, received honorary degrees at the afternoon ceremony. Wu is an award-winning political and investigative reporter at WCVB-TV in Boston.
Emeritus status was conferred on Cynthia Bartlett, retiring associate professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, at the graduate ceremony.
Receptions for students, families, and faculty were held after both ceremonies.