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January 12, 2022

A Remembrance of Sidney Poitier

Dear SCA Family,

As we joined in celebrating the magnificent talent that was Sidney Poitier, those of us who experienced it couldn’t help but remember the inspiring, poetic commencement address he made to the graduating class of 2000. I thought I would share it with you.

But first a little background about Sidney Poitier’s involvement with our School. In 1991, Frank Price, who was then the Chairman of Columbia Pictures, became the founding Chair of our Board of Councilors and asked his friend, Mr. Poitier, to join the board. According to Frank, “Sidney had a deep interest in our goal of further diversifying the School, both students and faculty, and he followed and encouraged the progress over the years.” 

Mr. Poitier’s speech was as moving as everyone expected, drawing on his remarkable career as an actor, director, and diplomat—at the time he was the Bahamas’ Ambassador to Japan. It received a standing ovation and is a highlight of our history. 

In introducing Mr. Poitier, Frank of course acknowledged that he had won the Academy Award for Lilies of the Field, had been nominated for The Defiant Ones, had earned global admiration for roles in enduring films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, To Sir With Love and Blackboard Jungle, and had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He also pointed out the important role Mr. Poitier had played in transforming our industry and our culture. Sidney Poitier, Frank told the audience, is “someone who by force of character, talent and personality, changed the world. Before Sidney Poitier, there were no Black leading men. Against the odds, he created the stellar role through his determination, talent, and dynamism. He was the role model that others were inspired to follow.”

Mr. Poitier’s words had a profound effect on those of us who were in the audience that day, and I am sure you will also find them inspiring. You can access the speech as well as a picture of Mr. Poitier in his USC regalia HERE. 

Sincerely,
Elizabeth

Elizabeth M. Daley Steven J. Ross/Time Warner Professor and Dean School of Cinematic Arts University of Southern California