Commencement Speaker: Callie Khouri

Callie Khouri To Deliver Watkins Commencement Address at May 14 Ceremonies

May 12, 2016

Callie Khouri, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma and Louise and creator/executive producer of the hit television series Nashville, will be the keynote speaker for Watkins College of Art, Design & Film’s 2016 Commencement on Saturday, May 14.

Ms. Khouri will also receive the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Fine Arts from Watkins during ceremonies on the Watkins campus, beginning at 10 a.m. The public is invited.

Ms. Khouri galvanized women and sparked nationwide debate in 1991 with the hit movie Thelma and Louise–her screenwriting debut–which was nominated for six Academy Awards. She won the Oscar, the Golden Globe, the Writers Guild of America Award, and a PEN Literary Award for best original screenplay. Her second film, released in 1995, was Something to Talk About, starring Julia Roberts, Dennis Quaid and Robert Duvall. She made her directorial debut in 2002 with Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (which she also adapted for the screen), featuring Sandra Bullock and Maggie Smith, followed by the 2008 caper comedy Mad Money with Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah.

Callie Khouri with "Nashville" stars Charles Esten and Connie Britton

Callie Khouri with “Nashville” stars Charles Esten and Connie Britton

Currently, Ms. Khouri is writer, director and executive producer of the ABC/Lionsgate music drama Nashville (which she also created), in its fourth season.

Dr. J. Kline, president of Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, described Ms. Khouri as, “a role model and inspiration, not just for our film students, but all our students. Through the course of her career she has pursued various avenues of success, while all the time remaining an engaged member of the artistic community on a national and a local level. She has created opportunities for Nashville artists of all stripes and afforded many of our students their first professional experience. We are thrilled and honored to have her as our commencement speaker.”

Producer Mimi Polk Gitlin, actress Geena Davis, journalist Anne Thompson and writer Callie Khouri at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 20th anniversary screening of "Thelma & Louise" (August 25, 2011)

Producer Mimi Polk Gitlin, actress Geena Davis, journalist Anne Thompson and Callie Khouri at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 20th anniversary screening of “Thelma & Louise” (2011)

After graduating from high school in Paducah, Kentucky, Callie Khouri attended Purdue University, taking classes in landscape architecture and drama. She lived in Nashville for a time before heading to Los Angeles in 1982 to pursue a theater arts career, studying at the Strasburg Institute. In 1985 she shifted her focus to film production, beginning as an assistant on commercials and music videos and eventually becoming a music video producer. During this time she wrote the script that would become Thelma and Louise. In addition to its success Hollywood success, it earned the London Film Critics Circle Award for Film of the Year and a nomination for Best Original Screenplay from the British Academy of FIlm and Television Arts. Ms. Khouri has served on the Writers Guild of America’s board of directors and on the Writer’s Guild Foundation’s board of trustees, and was a member of Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Women’s Media Watch Project.

She has also taught filmmaking and theater arts, including a writing and directing course through the Arts Initiative at Columbia University.

Read 25th Thelma and Louise anniversary interview with Geena Davis and  Susan Sarandon  

Following the welcome from Watkins President Kline, Watkins Board of Trustees chair Samuel E. Stumpf, Jr. will present Ms. Khouri with the honorary DFA. Previous recipients of the honorary degree from Watkins include former Nashville mayor Karl Dean (2014), author/illustrator David Macaulay (2013), cultural policy expert Bill Ivey (2012), and Albert Hadley (2010), noted interior designer who studied at Watkins Institute in his youth.

After Ms. Khouri delivers the Commencement address, Vice President for Academic Affairs Joy McKenzie will  present BFA and BA candidates in art, film, fine art, graphic design, interior design and photography, and Mr. Stumpf will confer the degrees.

The Class of 2016 will be the first to graduate under the leadership of President Kline, who began as the institution’s 16th president in July 2015. In February, Watkins launched its first graduate-degree program, the Master of Fine Arts in Film Production, a two-year course of study designed on a flex schedule for working professionals (mfa.watkins.edu).

Callie Khouri, interviewed for "Makers"

Callie Khouri, interviewed for “Makers”

More about Callie Khouri:

• Multi-part interview with Makers, the largest video collection of women’s stories

• Syd Field: The Art of Visual Storytelling: Callie Khouri on Creating Character: ‘Thelma and Louise’ 

• Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1991: Callie Khouri Answers Critics of ‘Thelma and Louise’