Reporting by Rebecca Nichloson. Written for BlackEnterprise.com.
Actor, Blair Underwood, has long been a staple in black cinema, television and the arts. In addition to maintaining a successful career that spans 30 years, the two-time Golden Globe nominee, who made his film acting debut in Michael Schultz’s Krush Grove (1985), is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and has won the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award an astounding seven times.
Moreover, he’s the supporter of an array of nonprofit initiatives and co-founded Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), which has raised and granted upwards of $9 million dollars for African nonprofits. He’s also worked with organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
On Saturday, August 8, Blair Underwood will give the commencement addressat AmericanInterContinental University (AIU) in Chicago, offering words of wisdom to the 2015 graduating class. He was invited to speak at the commencement because of his numerous achievements. Underwood will share his insights on the correlation between career success and education, in addition to encouraging these future leaders as they embark on a new chapter in their lives.
“This past year has marked such exciting changes in my own career, and there is no better feeling than knowing all of your dedication and hard work is paying off,” Underwood said. “As AIU students take to the stage for their commencement ceremony, I hope to inspire them to seize the moment and recognize their accomplishment of this important milestone, while looking forward to even greater success in the future.”
“Graduation at AIU is a celebration of each student’s personal accomplishments, recognizing their completion of academic programs that will prepare them for future success at a pivotal point in their lives,” said President of AIU, Dr. George Miller. “Blair Underwood’s own accomplishments and journey to success will undoubtedly inspire students to pursue their dreams as they move forward to their next chapter.”
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Blair Underwood to discuss his motivation for being the AIU commencement speaker, what message he hopes to impart to his audience of 2015 grads, and what inspires him to give back to the community.
BlackEnterprise.com: What inspired you to be the AIU commencement speaker this year?
Underwood: Well, they invited me first of all. It was an honor to be accepted. Actually, these last couple of years I’ve been seriously considering getting an online degree. So I’ve been personally researching different schools, different avenues to do that. I was impressed with AIU—what they do, what they stand for, what they represent—and then they invited me to give the commencement address.
What do you hope to communicate to the class of 2015?
I hope to encourage them. I hope to inspire them … Everybody’s path is different and unique, in terms of what they will conspire to do and what path they will take. But, after all that, it’s [about] belief in self, finding your strength and understanding your weaknesses. It’s about networking, it’s about reaching out. It’s about faith. It’s about potential. What I’ve found in my life, the most difficult part sometimes, is just believing yourself.
Having studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University, how did education influence your artistic and career development?
In one sense, people in my particular field don’t necessarily want to know, or need to know, that you have a college degree. But, with that being said, for me it was important to get the training—to get a specific conservatory training—because it gives you a foundation. And more than that, it sets you apart. Another basic tenet of life is: People’s perspectives have a lot to do with your ability to succeed sometimes. … You’re qualified and you’re talented—that can be one truth. But somebody’s perspective of your abilities is another. So when you have that college degree—in my case Carnegie Mellon, a very respected university—it opens doors.
What motivated you to co-found Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA)? Why should more people give back?
‘To whom much is given, much is required.” I’ve been given a great deal. I worked my butt off, but I’ve been given a great deal. So, therefore, I believe in giving back when you can and being of service … The definition of true success is finding your passion, your particular passion … The flip side of that is giving to others; being of service to others. I wholeheartedly believe that.