Big names to give final lesson to Columbia grads

The list of this year’s commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients was released to the college community via email on March 29. From left,  producer Paul Garnes, actress Jane Lynch, museum founder and president Carlos Tortolero, poet Tracy K. Smith and songwriter Diane Warren, will speak at the 2016 commencement ceremonies and receive honorary degrees. 

By Campus Reporter

Jane Lynch, Diane Warren and several other award-winning artists are on the college’s list of this year’s commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. They were named in a March 29 press release from The Silverman Group, a public relations company.

The honorees include 1994 alumnus and “Selma” executive producer Paul Garnes; Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith;  Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress Jane Lynch; Grammy Award-winning songwriter Diane Warren; and National Museum of Mexican Art founder and President Carlos Tortolero.

As stated in the March 29 email, each honoree will speak at one of the five commencement ceremonies on May 14 and May 15 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., where more than 2,000 Columbia graduate and undergraduate students will receive degrees.

“These are people whose work reflects something that our students are wanting to do,” said President & CEO Kwang-Wu Kim. “It was important to bring in people who have achieved success so students start to visualize their own path as a result of hearing from these people.”

Smith has been recognized for literary pieces including “Duende,” “The Body’s Question” and her most recent poetry collection, “Life on Mars,” which won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize. Smith will be honored at the commencement ceremony for advertising and public relations, American Sign Language, creative writing, cultural studies, education, English, journalism and radio majors on May 14 at 10 a.m.

Lynch, who was raised in Chicago’s South suburbs, has won two Emmys for hosting “Hollywood Game Night” and one Emmy and Golden Globe for playing Sue Sylvester on “Glee.” Additional film appearances include “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Julie & Julia” and “Talladega Nights.” Lynch will be honored at the May 14 commencement ceremony for audio arts & acoustics, creative arts therapies, dance, art + materials conservation, television and theatre majors at 1:30 p.m.

Songwriter Diane Warren, who owns Realsongs publishing company, has eight Academy Awards nominations and 13 Grammy nominations, winning one Grammy for the song “Because You Loved Me.” She was also nominated for five Golden Globes with one win for the ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” Warren has worked with artists such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Elton John,  Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and others. She will be honored on May 14 at 5 p.m. at the ceremony for business & entrepreneurship, fashion studies and interactive arts & media majors.

Warren said she feels honored and is amazed to participate in one of the five commencement ceremonies this year. She advised Columbia students to never give up and throw themselves into  their work hard.

“Entertainment is competitive so you have to be great and you have to work hard,” Warren said. “You cannot give up…. It is going to be hard. It will take time [to succeed.]”

A 1994  film + video alumnus, Paul Garnes has worked as a producer, line producer and production manager of films and television series for Disney, HBO, ABC, NBC, Sony and Paramount Pictures. In 2014, Garnes was executive producer for the movie “Selma,” which was nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Picture and won a 2015 Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song. He will be honored at the commencement ceremony for cinema art + science and photography majors on May 15 at 12 p.m.

Carlos Tortolero is the founder and president of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chicago. It was the first Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and has more than 10,000 pieces in its permanent collection. He will be honored at the ceremony for art  & art history, design, interdisciplinary arts and music majors on May 15 at 3:30 p.m.

“It’s fantastic,” Tortolero said. “I’m very honored. Columbia is one of the top art schools in the country…. It is a school that I have always got a lot of admiration and respect for.” 

Kim said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, worked with the committee that chose the honorees. The committee researched candidates based on their professional experience and availability, he added.

Kim said the committee then passed its recommendations to him, as he was in charge of grouping them and sending them to the board for final approval early this semester.

For Kim, diversity among the speakers  was a crucial aspect when choosing them because it is important for students to see how different people succeed.

“They are all in industries that we teach,” Kim said. “It is not impossible that we could bring an engineer or a chemist[to commencement,] but it would be a bit harder to understand what is the connection to the college.”