By Bobbi Leet
Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will be the 2016 Commencement speaker, according to an announcement on the Stanford News Service.
The acclaimed director and producer, whose work includes The Civil War, the highest-rated series in the history of American Public Television with 40 million viewers, and the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge, will deliver the address to the senior class on June 12 at Stanford Stadium. Described by the New York Times as “the most accomplished documentary filmmaker of his generation,” he has received dozens of awards for his work, including 14 Emmys, 12 Grammys and two Oscar nominations.
“Ken Burns is an extraordinary filmmaker who has revolutionized storytelling and, in the process, movingly brought to life American history and culture,” said President John Hennessy to the Stanford News Service. “Our graduates will benefit immensely from hearing how he has leveraged compelling storytelling to make complex subjects accessible and to teach succeeding generations who we are as a people and what we value.”
Burns’ work focuses on the United States and the people who have shaped it. He has explored topics ranging from the Roosevelts to the history of stand-up comedy.
“All of my subjects have been about American history, digging deep into what makes this America,” Burns said to Parade Magazine. “Each film asks that question. Who are we? Who are those strange and complicated people who like to call themselves Americans?”
He is especially attracted to narratives that explore the ability of people to overcome their differences and unite over a common cause. His latest film tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player of the modern era, who endured unimaginable racism to become one of the game’s all-time greatest players.
Burns, for his part, has expressed great excitement over his upcoming speech.
“I cannot adequately describe how great an honor it is for me to be asked to give the Commencement address at Stanford University this year,” Burns said.
“The young women and men who will be heading out into the world to start their lives in earnest face unique challenges and responsibilities,” he added. “I hope to arm them with some perspectives.”
Contact Bobbi Leet at dillonl ‘at’ stanford.edu.