Actress Marcia Gay Harden Is Commencement Speaker for The University of Texas at Austin’s May Ceremony

Nov. 18, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Marcia Gay Harden, a University of Texas at Austin graduate who has received an Oscar, a Best Actress Tony Award and numerous other honors throughout her career, will be the speaker for the 127th Spring Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 22, 2010.

Her speech will be presented on the university's Main Mall in front of the Tower during a festive ceremony that traditionally draws thousands of students, their parents and guests to the campus.

Marcia Gay Harden
Marcia Gay Harden

"I'm thrilled and honored to speak to these bright young minds, ready to go out and improve our world," said Harden. "They are the new philosophers, scientists, artists and economists, and it will be exciting to watch them discover their gifts."

Harden received her bachelor of arts degree in drama with honors from The University of Texas at Austin and her master of fine arts degree from the graduate acting program at New York University. She lives in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City with her husband and three children.

"We are very proud of Marcia and the many awards and honors she has earned throughout her very distinguished acting career," said William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. "Her amazing ability to transform words on a script into the role of a believable character is truly remarkable, and her tenacious spirit that has brought her this far makes us proud to say she is one of our own."

Harden's character portraits have been described by critics as searing, heartbreaking, inventive, pure and profane simultaneously, astonishing, authentic and sensuous. From the glamorous Ava Gardner in "Sinatra," to the artist Lee Krasner in "Pollock" (for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar), to the down and out Cecelia in "Mystic River" (for which she received another Academy Award nomination) Harden has created a signature style based in character transformation. Her versatility and wide range have been praised in such films as "Millers Crossing," "The First Wives Club," "Meet Joe Black," "Mona Lisa Smile," "The Hoax" and "Used People."

Harden recently garnered a Best Actress Tony Award for her starring role in the Tony Award-winning Broadway play "God of Carnage." She received an Outer Circle Critics Award for her performance, as well as nominations from the Drama Desk and Drama League. She was recently nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her role in "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler." Other nominations include a Tony Award nomination for Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" (for which she won the Drama Desk and Theatre World Awards), an Emmy nomination for her guest appearance on "Law and Order: SVU" and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for "American Gun."

For more information, contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of the President, 512 475 7847.

30 Comments to "Actress Marcia Gay Harden Is Commencement Speaker for The University of Texas at Austin’s May Ceremony"

1.  Jason Chaw said on Nov. 18, 2009

Marcia also spoke at the 2002 commencement, in front of the Main Building.

Welcome back! :)

2.  Sandy Poffinbarger said on Nov. 19, 2009

I appreciate the arts, and the accomplishments of Ms. Harden. However, this stereotype of a successful woman--an attractive married, white actress living in a "Harlem neighborhood" (how progressive) with her three children seems so scripted. I would like to remind the decision-makers at UT that there are successful strong women in government, medicine, engineering, the sciences and other more appropriate professions to inspire our graduates. I am sad that I'm finally graduating at age 52 and will have an actress speaking at my commencement. We really haven't come very far, have we? I am sad, very sad, and uninspired.

3.  joyce kreider said on Nov. 19, 2009

Didn't Marica Gay Harden live in the York, Pa., area sometime?

4.  Mike Guy said on Nov. 19, 2009

Who says the UT Theatre Department stinks?

5.  Cheney Crow, Ph.D. said on Nov. 21, 2009

I am stunned that a major university would choose not to seek out someone whose accomplishments are a contribution to society, to a greater good, someone whose life and work inspire our graduates to help make the world a better place.

6.  gregorybrandt said on Nov. 22, 2009

Have there been any other Longhorn Oscar winners?

7.  Matrex Kilgore said on Nov. 23, 2009

I'm glad one of the Theatre and Dance Department's alumni is being highlighted. She is a product of a great department that I am proud to say I'm a part of. It makes me feel honored to be a Longhorn to think about all of the amazing alumni the Theatre and Dance Department has and how they created a path for a student like me to follow.

I can't wait to hear her speak!

8.  andrew neilson said on Nov. 24, 2009

Renée Zellweger was an English student at UT, and she has also won an Oscar, about four years after Marcia I believe.

9.  Miranda Manchester said on Nov. 25, 2009

The university's Theatre Department has been terrible for several years, which is why I quit. There are one or two gemstones in the bunch who go on to do great things, but that's because of their own inherent talents and their further education at much better schools, such as NYU. UT's Theatre Department needs to reevaluate its curriculum, bring in some legitimate acting coaches and actually start appreciating theater for the art and not for the opportunity to be "avant garde." I was in that program for two years, and all I really knew how to do was the sun salutation. I am now at a different school and I am much better for it.

10.  John Carroll said on Nov. 26, 2009

Terrific choice. I saw her in production at the Virginia Stage Company shortly after her training at UT and before she became a movie star. She's a wonderful actress.

11.  Diego DiVerde said on Nov. 27, 2009

When somebody speaks at a ceremony, their personal achievements are not standing beside them to remind the audience what a truly remarkable individual is speaking. Therefore, outstanding individuals WITH a stage presence are ideal for an occasion like this. Sandy P., please go find someone in 'government, medicine, engineering, the sciences and other more appropriate professions' who can not only demand the attention of the thousands in attendance, but INSPIRE them to do something great with their life, and I will gladly listen. The best actors and actresses in the world have the extraordinary ability of portraying all kinds of people who work at mundane jobs, unusual jobs, first-rate institutions and so on...people who make daily contributions to the improvement of life. These roles can INSPIRE folks, just like the ones who will be attending the ceremony in May, to go out and do wonderful things with their lives. I can recall a time in my life when I wanted to be a lawyer because I loved "Law & Order." I am positive that there are millions of people who can attest to having similar inspirations at some point in their lives. I believe movies and television are about people, plain and simple. Not aliens landing or the end of the world, nor any other kind of 'event.' Ordinary as well as extraordinary people. As such, I believe Mrs. Harden, not just an actress, but one of the best, is an excellent choice to speak at the spring commencement ceremony.

12.  Bob Wright said on Nov. 28, 2009

Where was she born and raised?

13.  Shannon said on Nov. 30, 2009

To Cheney, Sandy and other like-minded critics of this choice:

Are you suggesting that films and film actors do not contribute to society or to a greater good in any meaningful way? Or that films and film acting can't inspire graduates to help make the world a better place? Or that for a woman to choose to become an actress is somehow inappropriate or less of an accomplishment than for a woman to choose to become an engineer or politician?

If so, then these comments suggest an unwillingness or inability to open your minds to the incredible breadth of meaningful human endeavors. Even cancer researchers and world peacemakers might find value, inspiration and simple enjoyment in a well-made, entertaining film now and again.

14.  psycho joe said on Dec. 1, 2009

I won't go.

15.  Tim Dalby said on Dec. 1, 2009

What an honor it is to both attend and participate in a graduation ceremony. It celebrates hard-working people, both young and old, who have worked hard to gain credentials as part of a dream to make a mark in the world. The dream does not stop at the halls of learning or during commencement. It transforms and strengthens. From there, individual talent, creativity, discipline, a series of wise choices and a little luck propels a person to realize their dreams, accomplish something of what they set out to do, and enjoy some happiness and perhaps recognition. This is what I want to hear about at my commencement, by someone who has been where I am, and now is living their dream with family around to enjoy her success. Inspiring? I say yes!

16.  Eva said on Dec. 1, 2009

I like the choice of Marcia as speaker. She is a great talent and has accomplished so much in her career. I do question the need to repeat a speaker so soon. We have many amazing graduates to draw from, of all fields, and also many inspiring "honorary" alumni who should get the opportunity once, before we re-extend it. I am sure she isn't the first repeat speaker at UT either. I think she will be fantastic, I am sure, as she was before.

17.  A.J. Simon said on Dec. 7, 2009

As a UT alum, I think it is awful that a leading university gets an actress to speak. This continues a line of poorly chosen speakers for some time. I graduated in 2006, and we had a boring speaker then, too. Why can't we get a former president or someone of significance? We have two Bushes right here in the state.

18.  Truong Lam said on Dec. 8, 2009

I am not familiar with the actress, although I have to say, her face does look slightly familiar. My graduation experience will be my graduation experience. For me, the event commemorates four years of hard, dedicated work for the purpose of providing a better future for me and those around me. Of course, we can argue all day that there are better speakers who bring this to the table, or speakers who are much more qualified because of their hardships or their eloquence. All I know is that she, like I hope to become one day, is a UT grad who has achieved happiness and success in all that she has done since her UT years. A graduation which celebrates my hard work these past four years as well as encourages me to follow in the footsteps of a fellow UT grad who has learned how to make the most of her life, I think, is all I have ever wanted for my college graduation.

Congratulations, Class of 2010! See you guys in the real world!

19.  B said on Dec. 8, 2009

Sandy and others:

When I graduated (1997), UT chose to have football-star-turned-sausage-maker Earl Campbell speak at the commencement ceremony. To say that it was disappointing is a huge understatement. He could barely speak in complete sentences. I would have been delighted to have heard Marcia instead. She is a talented and accomplished artist who takes on admirable roles and is far from the typical Hollywood actress.

20.  Suzanne said on Dec. 9, 2009

Thank you for NOT choosing a politician!

21.  Charles said on Dec. 10, 2009

I'm with Sandy and AJ Simon. With all the people that a leading university could get to give the commencement speech, why not pick someone doing cutting-edge research in biomed, cryptography or architectural engineering, or even accomplished writers? Film is a valuable art medium and resource, but I feel that people stress the importance of TV and movie screens (besides scholarly documentaries) too much. Literature, journals and books are still a much more powerful tool for delivering spot-on, accurate, credible information, and I feel many Hollywood movies in present-day U.S. actually work at perpetuating an existing norm and standardized message, and create most of society's misconceptions and ignorances on various subjects. Wilde would disagree with me completely, but I say that with the money and prestige UT has, they definitely could've invited a much more accomplished, much more involved citizen of the world! Not to diss Miss Gay Harden, but I shall not conceal my deepest beliefs. UT could've invited people such as Gore Vidal, Salman Rushdie, Jake Gyllenhal, Sherman Alexie, David Liss, Professor James White or Jay Banner, for example.

22.  K said on Dec. 12, 2009

Where's Steve Jobs?

23.  Ash said on Dec. 16, 2009

It doesn't matter who it is. It could be a combo of Albert Einstein, Jimmy Paige and Charlamagne speaking at the ceremony, and people would still complain. Celebrate your graduation.

24.  Mark said on Dec. 18, 2009

For heaven's sake, some of you here act as if the university asked Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan to speak at commencement! Marcia Gay Harden is erudite and extremely accomplished in her chosen field. How can that be considered an insult to all the hard-working graduates this spring? Give me a break.

25.  Mark said on Dec. 18, 2009

One more thing...I believe the contention about the very appropriate choice of Ms. Harden stems from the fact that her detractors here do not know who she is. In my estimation and in many of those who know better, Marcia Gay Harden is hardly just an "actress."

26.  Bill W said on Dec. 21, 2009

I guess it's getting hard to find truly outstanding, highly qualified speakers anymore. Maybe they've used up all the good ones. Maybe next year they can get an avatar or an animated character to inspire our graduates.

27.  Susan Clagett said on Dec. 21, 2009


In 2001, Ms. Harden gave the address at the College of Fine Arts graduation convocation not at the university-wide Commencement. Because she was on campus and had just won an Academy Award, she was invited to make a brief "cameo" appearance at the university-wide ceremony. Dr. Steven Weinberg gave the Commencement address in that year. In 2010, Ms. Harden will be the featured speaker. This is a different role than she had in 2001. To my knowledge, Bill Moyers is the only repeat speaker at a University of Texas at Austin Commencement. He spoke in 1988 and 2000.

28.  S H said on Jan. 1, 2010

I would have loved to hear from a real hero. For me, the person of the year is Captain Sully Sullenberger. Why must we repeat speakers?

29.  Nicki Tyler said on May 18, 2010

We are fortunate and should truly appreciate having Ms. Harden return to our community to provide the commencement speech. She has earned the highest accolades for her acting career that was born out of her education in our university. We can always have scholars and scientists, but someone famous who has spent her life entertaining the masses, who takes time out of her busy acting and mothering career is most welcome and appreciated by this fan and Texas Ex!

30.  juliana m g said on May 19, 2010

She can't be any worse than last year's speaker!