May 11, 2024

The School of Cinematic Arts Celebrates the Class of 2024!

By Benjamin Pola

Dean Daley addressing the class of 2024

The USC School of Cinematic Arts celebrated the newest additions to its alumni community at the Shrine Auditorium on May 10, 2024. More than 500 graduates from the School’s eight divisions and programs proudly walked across the stage to receive their degrees, joining a prestigious cohort of over 18,000 SCA alumni shaping the landscape of entertainment and media industries worldwide.

Group photo of SCA graduates at the 2024 commencement ceremony

Acclaimed filmmaker, SCA alumnus and recipient of the 2024 Mary Pickford Alumni Award, James Gray ’91, addressed the Class of 2024 and delivered a rousing, inspiring speech urging graduates to embrace their roles as artists, "It’s a badge of honor.  Especially right now," Gray stated passionately, telling the graduates that the world needed them to make a difference. “There’s a notion out there, it’s a belief that everything, including cinema and the arts, is an instrument of, and for, profit only,” he said. Pointing to the industry itself he want on to say, “This system we’ve built—which has done many good things, let’s stipulate that--has not yet figured out how to monetize integrity.” He then encouraged graduates to harness their creativity and unique voices to foster unity and connection through their artistic endeavors – something that Gray says is currently missing in the world. “Because when the sharks out there tell you such-and-such has gotta be commercial, I suggest you nod politely, and then do what you do.”

2024 graduates in Shrine Auditorium

In his parting words, Gray emphasized the boundless potential of storytelling in the digital age. “The cave paintings of Lascaux are 38,000 years old. It took 37,500 years for perspective, and chiaroscuro. Sound cinema is 1927, and by 1933, you’ve got an ocean of masterpieces,” he told the graduates. “This tells me that human beings have always needed the movies.  It was always in us. We make the closest thing to dreams that’s ever existed. And it’s still brand new.”

Listen to Gray's full speech here: 2024 Mary Pickford Alumni Award

About the Speaker

Headshot of 2024 Mary Pickford Alumni Award recipient James Gray

James Gray ’91, 2024 Mary Pickford Alumni Award Recipient
James Gray made his directorial debut in 1994 at the age of 25 with LITTLE ODESSA, a widely acclaimed film which received the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. In 2000, Gray wrote and directed THE YARDS, his second feature and his first with Joaquin Phoenix, who would become a frequent collaborator, going on to star in his next three films: WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007), TWO LOVERS (2008) and THE IMMIGRANT (2013), all of which screened In Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. 
Gray's THE LOST CITY OF Z, based on the best-selling novel by David Grann and starring Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland, had its world premiere as the closing night selection of the 2016 New York Film Festival and was released in theaters by Amazon and Bleecker Street in 2017. Disney/Fox’s AD ASTRA, directed by Gray and starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, world premiered In Competition at the Venice Film Festival and was released in theaters in September 2019. 
His latest film, ARMAGEDDON TIME - which he directed, wrote and produced- was inspired by his own childhood in 1980s Queens. The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, followed by screenings at the Telluride Film Festival and New York Film Festival before its release by Focus Features in October 2022.
Born in New York City, Gray grew up in Queens and attended the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television.