Actor and activist Ed Asner delivered a moving commencement address this week to the first graduating class of Exceptional Minds, a digital arts vocational school for young men and women on the autism spectrum.
Addressing the eight graduating students, he spoke of his “belief in the greatness of these individuals” and his fascination and often struggle to understand his own son and grandson, both of whom have autism spectrum disorders.
“The idea of an autistic person, it seems to me, is like the tent filled with horse crap. We know that there’s a pony in there. We believe in the pony in each autistic … and in my case, I am rewarded by what I discover to be the pony that each one possess, the uniqueness, the marvelousness,” he said.
Ed Asner has been part of the school’s advisory board since its inception in 2011 as a way to bridge the gap between high school and the working world for young adults with autism. He is known by the students here as a mentor… and a voice. “Some of you know him for his Emmy-award winning role as Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore Show, but we know him as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s animated film Up. Please help me welcome activist, philanthropist and our Exceptional Minds hero Mr. Ed Asner,” said Exceptional Minds graduate Eli Katz, by way of introduction to an applauding audience of parents and friends there for the graduation held at the Exceptional Minds studio location in Sherman Oaks, California.
During Sunday’s commencement, seven young men and one young woman took the stage to become the first to graduate Exceptional Minds’ rigorous three-year program, beginning their careers in post-production, visual effects and other digital arts fields as professionals with at least three Adobe program certifications.
Patrick Brady, Christopher Chapman, Danny Gott, Arielle Guthrie, Lloyd Hackl, Eli Katz, Justin Klug and Kevin Titcher also leave the school with hands-on experience in the digital arts, some including screen credit for rotoscoping and visual effects cleanup work on Oscar-nominated motion picture American Hustle and the end-credit screen crawl for the 2012 movie Lawless.
The school is known for its close working?relationship with the visual effects industry, which?has provided its students with experience – and employment. “On Monday morning, I will begin my career at Stargate Studios while some of my classmates will begin working on a major motion picture for Stereo D,” said Kevin Titcher, who will start as a production assistant in the editorial department at Stargate Studios, which is known for visual effects and other work for such productions as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Walking Dead.
At one point during the graduation Sunday, Stargate CEO, founder and two-time Emmy-award winner Sam Nicholson shared the stage with Asner to receive the 2014 Ed Asner Award – or Eddy Award – recognizing his company as the first to hire Exceptional Minds talent. “In my 25 years I’ve seen a lot of talent come and go, and the one thing I look for is passion. If you can identify someone’s passion — and we can connect them with that passion, that’s an electric combination. In this case, you’ve identified the human spirit and every one of the students here have that,” said Nicholson to the parents and friends in attendance.
“I am proud to meet Sam here, who has gone one step further and given our young student a position in the real world,” said Asner of Nicholson.
Sunday’s graduation also marks the start of employment for Exceptional Minds’ alumni, some of whom will work by the project in the Exceptional Minds Studio (EMS) co-located with the school. EMS operates independently of the vocational school to provide high quality stereo conversion (rotoscoping), visual effects, computer graphics, title work, and animation in demand by the industry.
About Exceptional Minds (http://www.exceptionalmindsstudio.org):
Exceptional Minds is a non-profit vocational center and working production studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. It was chartered in 2011 to provide the training necessary for creatively gifted individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who may not otherwise be able to make the transition from high school to careers. Exceptional Minds offers technical proficiency and work readiness training that prepares students for careers in graphic arts, animation, web design, visual effects and rotoscoping. Located in Sherman Oaks, California, Exceptional Minds is both an instructional learning facility and a working studio with hands-on student involvement in production projects, many for the film industry.