May 11, 2007

Commencement Celebration

SCA Confers Degrees On Over 500 Graduates

By James Tella

“We still yearn for stories that can captivate our imaginations," said Wright in his commencement address.
Joined by an Oscar-winning special effects master; a legendary actor, director, producer and composer; and a world-renowned pioneer of electronic games, the School of Cinematic Arts celebrated the past, present and future of entertainment as it heralded the arrival of its newest graduating class on May 11.

Addressing a crowd filling USC’s Galen Center, commencement speaker and game designer Will Wright congratulated the class of ’07, pointing out that he shares with them a “deep common thread,” where they are all “trying to help people come to understand and appreciate the complexity, beauty, and meaning of the world around us.”

Wright talked about the changing world and competing with those in it.

“We still yearn for stories that can captivate our imaginations, with archetypal characters and situations we can relate to,” Wright said. “We just want them faster, denser, and more engaging.”

The class of 2007 gathers in the Founders' Room of the Galen Center.
Surrounded by students and faculty from the school’s six divisions, Wright took the occasion to underscore the monumental change afoot in all entertainment media. “We’re going through a Cambrian explosion of sorts as new outlets for both games and stories appear,” he remarked. “These new distribution technologies are not just the formats that we work with, but the social dynamics around our entertainment as well.”

Wright is the chief designer and co-founder of the Maxis software company. His Sims game has sold some 85 million units globally, generating more than $1.6 billion in sales. His latest project Spore, is hailed by industry observers as the perfect blend of engineering design and entertainment value.

Best wishes all around at commencement 2007.
Calling this year’s class “an amazing group that we have watched with pride,” Dean Elizabeth M. Daley spoke for the entire faculty gathered on stage when she said, “I look forward to seeing the magic of the media that you will make and the wisdom of the scholarship that you will bring to us all.”

Commencement ’07 also celebrated the remarkable lifetime of achievement of writer/director/producer Clint Eastwood by honoring the  entertainment legend as the first person whom the school has awarded an USC Honorary Alumni Award.

Clint Eastwood accepts his Honorary Alumni Award.
One of the university’s highest accolades, the distinction serves to recognize people who demonstrate loyalty, interest and service to their community or their profession in the spirit of the mission of the university while recognizing those who make personal contributions to their profession and serve as role models for the generations that follow.

Introduced by Frank Price, chairman of the school’s Board of Councilors and chairman and CEO of Price Entertainment as “a man whose challenging of convention is the hallmark of his work—both in front of the camera and behind,” Eastwood took to the podium with a thunderous standing ovation.

“I have great admiration for film schools and for the experience that you have had,” said Eastwood, who earlier in the day was awarded an honorary doctorate at the university’s main commencement exercises by USC President Steven B. Sample, Provost C. L. Max Nikias, and Dean Daley. “You are constantly learning in this life of cinema.”

Professor Doe Mayer, holder of the Mary Pickford Endowed Chair, presented special effects master Ray Harryhausen with the Mary Pickford Foundation Alumni Award, which annually pays tribute to an alumnus or alumna whose extraordinary achievements bring special distinction to the school and to the industry.

Deborah Lott received her B.A. in Critical Studies, the same degree as her daughter in 1995.  
From the sword-wielding skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts to the snake-haired Medusa in Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen, who studied cinematography and art direction at the school in the 1930s, has a legendary portfolio of stop-motion work that spans over 40 years.

In a taped message from his home in London, the 86 year-old special effects master praised his course in film editing, saying it was very important “particularly in the animation field,” and applauded the school for “teaching young people the basics of cinema art.”

As the 13th recipient, he joins other Pickford honorees including William Fraker, Conrad L. Hall, Alan Ladd, Jr., Michelle Manning, Walter Murch, Jay Roach, Gary Rydstrom, Stacey Sher, John Singleton, David L. Wolper, Laura Ziskin and Robert Zemeckis.

For Deborah Lott, who received her B.A. in Critical Studies, commencement held a particular sense of déjà vu—her daughter, Jennifer, graduated with the same degree in 1995.

“It was awesome,” Lott said about following in her daughter’s footsteps. “She was an immense help to me, and her professors remembering me made it such an easy transition.”

The class of 2007 received at total of 301 undergraduate degrees, 237 masters degrees and 10 doctorates.