It’s not every day that a graduation ceremony takes place in a venue as glamorous and storied as the El Capitan Theater, or that friends and family munch on popcorn and Skittles while “Pomp and Circumstance” booms from an ornate Wurlitzer organ during the processional. And it certainly isn’t every day that one graduates alongside the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Jon Avnet and Anne V. Coates, all of whom were awarded honorary degrees June 12 at the AFI Conservatory Commencement Ceremony.
“When you see ‘no,’ look it in the eyes and laugh at it, snarl at it and just don’t take it,” Avnet advised the graduating class. The “Wigs” producer went on to surprise audience members and AFI faculty alike with the story of how he’d attended but never graduated from the conservatory.
“I had absolutely no idea Jon quit the conservatory,” AFI’s Bob Gazzale said with wide eyes.
Jeremy Renner made a surprise appearance to present Kathryn Bigelow with her degree. The actor affirmed that he’d never be where he is today if not for Bigelow, who promptly lobbed back the very same gratitude and praise for Renner’s performance in “The Hurt Locker.”
“I really think I am standing here as the result of a profound and timeless performance by this man,” Bigelow said.
Fruitful rebellions seemed to be a theme of the ceremony. Bigelow told a story from her own years as a student, when she broke into the San Francisco Art Institute president’s office to stage a formative prank that posed the question of what is the difference between an original and a copy.
Likewise, when producer Stacey Sher introduced Coates, she told the story of how Coates encouraged her to rebel against Universal’s decision to cut a pivotal scene in Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight.” Coates went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for the film.
“Anything that you get offered that may not seem so great at the time – take it,” Coates told the graduates, referring to her choice to edit “Lawrence of Arabia” despite only being offered “50 pounds for a couple of weeks.” That’s because, as Coates joked, “Once you cut a ‘Lawrence,’ you’ll be able to ask for any money.”