Celebrating the AFI Class of 2020 and Honorary Degree Recipient Lily Tomlin – American Film Institute


Celebrating the AFI Class of 2020 and Honorary Degree Recipient Lily Tomlin

On Saturday, August 21, 2021, the AFI community celebrated the commencement of the AFI Conservatory Class of 2020 with the graduates and their families and friends – some near and some far. With the ceremony streaming live from the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, many watched in places as far as Italy, India, Brazil and Kyrgyzstan.

The festivities included speeches from Dean Susan Ruskin, Aaron Sorkin, Class of 2020 Representative Screenwriting Fellow Wilandrea Blair – and AFI Life Achievement honoree Jane Fonda.

In a stirring speech that reminded all in attendance of the historic moments celebrated in the venerable theatre, AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale said, “We are here to celebrate those brave enough to put their dreams on display.” Gazzale introduced Aaron Sorkin, who started his remarks with this warm greeting: “I have a message from the film community … welcome.” Sorkin also reminisced about the surprise proposal that took place in an AFI seminar between two of the graduates.

Jane Fonda donned her robe to address the film school graduates, and started by saying “I want to congratulate you, the graduating class.” She then introduced her friend and collaborator – and AFI Honorary Degree recipient – Lily Tomlin, who Fonda called ”a one of a kind genius.” Throughout her extraordinary career, Tomlin has received numerous awards, including eight Emmy® Awards, two Tony Awards®, two Peabody Awards and a Grammy® Award. Tomlin currently co-stars with Fonda in the series GRACE AND FRANKIE, for which she has been nominated for four Emmys®, a Golden Globe and several SAG Awards.

In her speech, as read by Fonda, Tomlin inspired the new graduates with her words, “With this degree, you are afforded a grand pedestal as an interpreter of our lifestyles and realities, and an influencer on our thoughts and beliefs. You will have this role, you graduates, this very compelling role, for as long as you make movies.”

Unique to this year, Class Representative Wilandrea Blair screened a video celebrating all the AFI Cycle films created by the graduating class, which include filmmakers from the cinematography, directing, editing, producing, production design and screenwriting disciplines. In her remarks, Blair reminded her fellow filmmakers of the awesome responsibility – and potential – that they have, ”Be mindful. The worlds you build have the power to change the one we live in.”


The AFI Conservatory commencement ceremony celebrating the Class of 2021 will take place on October 9, 2021. At the ceremony, AFI will confer a Doctorate of Fine Arts degree honoris causa on Academy Award®- and Emmy®-nominated actress Angela Bassett in recognition of her contributions to the art of the moving image.

To learn more about the AFI Conservatory, one of the top film schools in America, visit AFI.edu.

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