Leslie Odom Jr. draws laughs, inspires during CMU graduation address
It was 16 years ago when Leslie Odom Jr. graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with his whole life ahead of him.
Now, coming off of his success as a member of the original “Hamilton” cast, the Tony and Grammy award winning actor and singer returned to CMU on Sunday as the keynote speaker for this year’s graduation.
It was clear Odom was honored to be back at his alma mater, but he also didn’t take himself too seriously. He began his speech with a joke about not remembering what the commencement speaker said when he graduated in 2003.
“It gives me tremendous comfort today to know that 16 years from now, when asked, most of you will have no idea who spoke today,” he joked. “That sets me free, so I thank you for that.”
Odom went on to tell the students about the importance of setting and following intentions as a way to achieve success.
“When you’re starting out, especially as all of you are about to do, it falls under the purview of things which you have complete control — your honest intention,” he said.
Odom again drew laughs from the crowd for calling his role as the Rev. Curtis Scott on three seasons of “Law and Order SVU” a “cultural phenomenon” that gets him invited to speak at about 90% of his speaking engagements.
The other 10%, of course, was his role in “Hamilton.”
Odom told the crowd about the importance of getting to know yourself and understanding why you want the things you want.
He said he had no intention of being in movies or on television, but he always wanted to be on Broadway.
“Everything lines up behind your intention — the opportunities that come your way, the people you find surrounding you, where you live, (and) at times what you eat,” he said. “Much of your ultimate success lies in how well your actions line up behind your intentions.”
In addition to being the keynote speaker, Odom also received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree along with Darlene Clark Hine, a scholar of African-American history; David M. Kelley, founder of the global design and innovation company IDEO and Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design; and television production designers John Shaffner and Joe Stewart.
“I place my faith in the highest possible intentions in all things these days,” Odom said in his closing remarks. “In raising my kid, in choosing my projects, recording my music, and making speeches that I suspect will be forgotten.
I hope you will do the same; we have so much work to do, Class of 2019.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .