Commencement Speaker J.J. Abrams Talks about Life at SLC

Filmmaker and slc alum J.J. Abrams ('88). courtesy of vulture. 

Filmmaker and slc alum J.J. Abrams ('88). courtesy of vulture. 

With graduation approaching, the Sarah Lawrence community is excited to hear filmmaker J.J. Abrams (’88) talk as this year’s commencement speaker. As a follow up to The Phoenix’s “Excitement Increases Over J.J. Abrams (‘88) as This Year's Commencement Speaker,” the school paper interviewed Abrams on his career, his time at SLC, and advice for students:

Why did you decide to come to SLC?

I chose SLC partly because I was trying to figure out the best next step after high school. My father gave me advice, ‘learn what to make movies about rather that learning to make them.’ Growing up in LA and having been born in NY, it also felt like home. The combination of these things made the decision an exciting one and one I’m grateful for.

What was one the most memorable moment of your time at SLC?

One of the most memorable moments was… Joe Papaleo, a writing professor was like a wizard in his office in Andrews. He saw me as someone who could be a writer. That feeling of being seen, not by a parent, but by someone you respect from the outside was a powerful thing.

What aspects of Sarah Lawrence play into your professional life today?

You need to find your own discipline. In the environment at Sarah Lawrence you need to be your own advocate and be responsible for yourself at a level many colleges may not require. I found a rhythm between work I needed to do and work I wanted to do.

I also found community, people that I can dream and share aspirations with. I remember sitting at Bates with my friend, Andy, talking about things we would build. Right now, I am standing in a building built by my friend. It’s not just the way of life you can develop, but the people who become your community. I still talk to my classmates.

What do you think are 3 things that led to your success?

Incredible luck.

The love of what it is I’ve been doing.

The collaborations I’ve had with people that are better at what they do than I am.

Do you see what you do as entertainment or art, or is it both for you?

Storytelling. If it’s entertaining for some people, that’s great. I’m grateful for making a living doing what I love to do. I try not to define it.

It can be dangerous when you consider your work art. Not to say it’s bad if someone does. If someone considers their own work art, you can fall into a pretentious zone quickly. Respect your work but don’t quantify it as just one thing.

What prompted you to speak at SLC and how do you feel coming back?

President Karen Lawrence asked several times but because of schedules. [This] year I was free on this day. I look back at my time at Sarah Lawrence fondly. The idea of returning to give a commencement felt bittersweet but if it’s something the school was requesting, it was the least I can do.

Donna Karimi (‘17)

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.