Dear Tulane Community,
I am thrilled to announce that this year’s Commencement speaker is the multifaceted, award-winning vocalist, songwriter, author, and actor Leslie Odom, Jr. He will deliver the keynote address at the Unified ceremony, to be held in Yulman Stadium at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 20.
Leslie originated what has become one of the most iconic roles in Broadway history. His breakout performance as Aaron Burr in the original cast of Hamilton earned him the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and a Grammy Award as principal soloist on the cast recording. His nuanced portrayal redefined the antihero and helped the show become a cultural juggernaut that changed the landscape of modern musical theater.
With a career spanning all performance genres, Leslie has made his mark on Broadway, television, film, and music. His work on Regina King’s recent film adaptation of One Night in Miami… reflects the depth of his talent: in addition to his critically acclaimed performance as soul legend Sam Cooke, he wrote, composed, and performed the film’s original song, “Speak Now,” which earned him an Oscar nomination and a Critics’ Choice Award, among several other award nominations. Leslie recently appeared in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and starred in Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, and will soon star in David Gordon Green’s upcoming Exorcist trilogy. He has received an Emmy nomination for his voice acting on the animated Apple TV+ musical-comedy series Central Park. As a musician, Leslie has released four full-length albums, with two climbing to #1 on the Billboard Jazz charts; he has performed at the White House and the Super Bowl, as well as headlined the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Leslie is a passionate advocate for arts education, citing lessons in empathy and connection that benefit students even if they don’t plan on pursuing arts-related careers. He recently guest starred on the hit ABC comedy Abbott Elementary, which follows a fictional group of dedicated educators in Philadelphia, his (and my) hometown. He writes about his own formative experience at a Philadelphia magnet school in his book Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning, sharing the story of how the fifth-grade social studies teacher whom he originally regarded as an adversary became his mentor and his champion. Trust, he explains, was the key to unlocking the power of that relationship.
During their time at Tulane, our students have put their trust in our amazing faculty and our dedicated staff to guide them on their academic journey. As the Class of 2023 prepares to make an impact on the world, we put our trust in them to bring their Tulane values to bear in a dazzling variety of careers. Commencement is an opportunity to come together and reflect on the power of this relationship as our time on campus together comes to a close. I look forward to hearing Leslie Odom Jr. inspire our graduates with the insight and wisdom he has gained through both failure and success as we celebrate our graduates.
Trust me: you’ll want to be in the room where it happens.