Revisiting Commencement

Looking back on the moments and riveting speech by John Carroll Lynch.

On Saturday, May 12, 2018, more than 40 emerging creative economists earned degrees in one of Watkins’s seven disciplines: art, film, fine art, graphic design, illustration, interior design, and photography. These artists also included those who pursued masters of fine arts degrees in Watkins’s prestigious graduate film program. The celebration, which took place on a beautiful, warm May morning, also recognized fine artist Ashley Obel as the winner of the Samuel Watkins Award for Excellence, given to the individual with the highest academic achievement in the class year.

Approximately 300 people attended Watkins’s 2018 Commencement and were held in rapt attention by the speaker for the occasion, critically acclaimed actor and director John Carroll Lynch.

Known for the versatility of his characters—Twisty the Clown in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, suspected Zodiac killer Arthur Leigh Allen in David Fincher’s Zodiac, Mac McDonald in John Lee Hancock’s The Founder, and Drew Carey’s brother on The Drew Carey Show—Carroll occupies a rare stratum of artist whose remarkable breadth is matched only by the detail and nuance he lends to his work.

“I have known John Carroll Lynch for more than 30 years and have followed his career with great appreciation,” said Watkins President J. Kline. “His rare and exquisite physical set of tools of the trade, as well as his profound emotional intelligence, set him apart from so many others. The combination of an absolute dedication to craft and an intuitive understanding of the human condition makes him an exceptional role model for the students at Watkins.”


A native of Colorado, Lynch was a member of the famed Guthrie Theater Acting Company in Minneapolis, MN, before landing his first major film role as Norm opposite Frances McDormand’s Marge in the Academy Award-winning film Fargo. Since then, he has worked steadily in film, television, and theatre, amassing more than 50 film credits alone with such directors as Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island), Mark Ruffalo (Sympathy for Delicious), Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl), Mick Jackson (Volcano), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), Albert Brooks (Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World), and Seth MacFarlane (Ted 2). Coming this year, he will appear with Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, and Kathy Bates in The Highwaymen; with Paul Giamatti, Katherine Hahn, and Molly Shannon in Private Life; and with Matt Bomer in Anything.

Television has been equally rich territory for Lynch, who has appeared on numerous series, including The Walking DeadBillionsTurnThe AmericansHouse of LiesCarnivaleBody of ProofBig Love; and The Brotherhood of Poland, NH; among others. On stage, Lynch has played Eddie Carbone in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge at the Guthrie and was in the original production for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies. Other credits include Under the Blue Sky at the Geffen and Beth Henley’s world premiere of Ridiculous Fraud at New Jersey’s McCarter Theater.

Lynch’s speech was a moving endorsement of the creative life. He alternated between wit, self-deprecation, exhortation, and powerful rhetoric about why the world is in deep need for Watkins artists, whom he called “crazy brave.”

“We have been making art since charcoal marked the walls of caves. But your art has yet to be made. Your voice has yet to be heard and we are desperate for it,” said Lynch. “This tired world is in need of renewal and we need you to do it. We don’t hear that voice inside you. Only you do. It is unique.”

Lynch went on to tell the Class of 2018 that “art does not conceal, it reveals. And the more you reveal of yourself, the bigger your success will be. Success in art, in my opinion, is only be defined by two questions? Is it true? And does it move others?”

To watch Lynch’s entire speech, click on the video at the bottom of the page.

Established in 1885, the mission of Watkins College of Art is to challenge individuals to develop their talent, refine their creative practice, and dedicate their lives to advancing culture through the illuminating power of art. The college boasts a high employment average of students who, upon graduating, work within the creative economy and their chosen profession (87 percent). Indeed, throughout its 133 years, Watkins has been a pioneer in connecting individuals to their highest potential. Begun by Samuel Watkins with the goal of teaching the “business of life,” the college has mobilized to meet the needs of an ever-changing population, particularly those who may have struggled to gain their footholds, such as immigrants in the early 20th century, women as they joined the workforce in the 1930s and 40s, and servicemen upon their return from World War II.

Over the past year, Watkins—which offers a 65,000-square-foot facility; state-of-the-art silo studios, soundstages, and multidisciplinary spaces; as well as modern residential apartments, all within America’s “It” City—launched a multipronged and ambitious effort to advance its reputation as one of the finest arts conservatories in the country.