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Prolific screenwriter and renowned communications scholar to speak at Emerson's Commencement

Allison Teixeira
April 28, 2011

An Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director and an internationally recognized scholar of communications ethics will receive honorary degrees and offer remarks at Emerson College’s 131st Commencement exercises on Monday, May 16, at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre.

Richard LaGravenese, a member of Emerson College’s class of 1980, will deliver the undergraduate address. He is the writer of numerous screenplays, including The Fisher King, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1992, The Ref (written with Emerson classmate Denis Leary), The Bridges of Madison County, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Horse Whisperer, and Beloved. He has also written and directed several films including Living Out Loud, Freedom Writers, and P.S. I Love You.

He wrote the screenplay for the current hit movie Water for Elephants.

Director-screenwriter Richard LaGravenese

The graduate address will be delivered by Clifford Christians, professor emeritus in the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the former director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at the University.

Approximately 950 bachelor’s degrees will be conferred at the 131st annual undergraduate ceremony, which will begin at 11 am, and 370 master’s degrees will be conferred during the graduate exercises, which start at 3 pm. Receptions for family and friends will be held on Boston Common following each event. Full biographical information on both LaGravenese and Christians follows.

Communications scholar Clifford Christians

Biographical information

Richard LaGravenese was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Emerson College (class of 1980) and graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Program. He went on to try his hand at comedy, performing and writing for a troupe he helped develop. In addition to holding down unrelated day jobs, the struggling actor helped make ends meet by writing monologues for other actors. He segued to films as a co-writer on the comedy Rude Awakening (1989).

His big break came from his second produced screenplay, The Fisher King (1991), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film starred Jeff Bridges as long-haired Jack Lucas, a suicidal New York DJ who regains his grasp on life after meeting Parry, an ostensibly insane homeless man (Robin Williams) obsessed with questing for The Holy Grail in midtown Manhattan.

LaGravenese courted additional acclaim with his screenplays for his popular 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and that same year’s Bridges of Madison County, adapted from the Robert James Waller novel, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Eastwood and Meryl Streep. LaGravenese then adapted sportswriter Franz Lidz’s childhood autobiography into the coming-of-age drama Unstrung Heroes (1995), which also marked Diane Keaton's directorial debut. At around the same time, LaGravenese updated André Cayatte and Jean Meckert’s screenplay for the 1958 Le Miroir à deux faces into a contemporized romantic drama, The Mirror Has Two Faces, which Barbra Streisand produced.

Living Out Loud (1998), a romantic comedy drama starring Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah, marked LaGravenese’s directorial debut. That effort’s 1998 release marked only one endeavor amid a very productive year for LaGravenese, as two other films he had adapted for the screen, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, directed by Jonathan Demme, and Nicholas Evans’ The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford, were released around the same time. In 2000, LaGravenese was an uncredited script reviser for Steven Soderbergh’s wildly popular Erin Brockovich, written by Susannah Grant.

LaGravenese also wrote and directed Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank, and doubled up as director and screenwriter on another film starring Swank, the box-office hit P.S. I Love You. His most recent screenplay credit, Water for Elephants, is currently in theaters.

Clifford Christians is the former director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a position he also held from 1987 to 2001. He has been a visiting scholar in philosophical ethics at Princeton University and in social ethics at the University of Chicago, and a PEW fellow in ethics at Oxford University. On the faculty at Illinois since 1974, Christians has won five teaching awards. His teaching interests are in the philosophy of technology, dialogic communication theory and media ethics. He has been published in numerous national and international journals.

He serves on the editorial boards of a dozen academic journals, is the former editor of Critical Studies in Media Communication, and currently edits The Ellul Forum. He has lectured or given academic papers worldwide in countries that include Belgium, Norway, Russia, Finland, Taiwan, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Singapore, Korea, Scotland, Philippines, Slovenia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Sweden. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, International Who’s Who in Education and Outstanding Scholars of the 21st Century: Communication Ethics. The Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society of Duquesne University gave him its Ethics Scholar Award in 1999, and the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research offers its Ethics Research Award annually in his name.

In 2003, he won the AEJMC Presidential Award for distinguished service to journalism and mass communication education, and in 2004, AEJMC’s Paul J. Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research. He was the James A. Jaksa Ethics Scholar in Residence at the Eighth National Communication Ethics Conference in June 2004.

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