Preeminent Asian American playwright David Henry Hwang received an honorary doctorate during Commencement 2022 at Cal State LA.
Hwang is a Tony Award winner for his work M. Butterfly, a three-time Tony Award nominee, a three-time Obie Award winner and a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is also the most-produced living American opera librettist, whose works have been honored with two GRAMMY Awards.
Cal State LA and the California State University Board of Trustees conferred an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts to Hwang during the Commencement ceremony for the College of Arts and Letters on May 26, which took place during Cal State LA’s 75th anniversary.
“In recognition for his creative work on Asian ethnicity and identity, his multifaceted award-winning talents and his generous involvement in support of the arts, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Los Angeles are proud to confer upon David Henry Hwang the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts,” said CSU Board of Trustees Chair Wenda Fong, moments before she and Cal State LA William A. Covino placed a doctoral hood on Hwang.
After accepting the honor, Hwang delivered an inspiring address to graduates of the College of Arts and Letters, one of Cal State LA’s academic colleges, which awards degrees to students who go on to pursue careers in the arts and humanities.
Hwang highlighted the unique moment in which the Class of 2022 finds itself and the extraordinary challenges the graduates faced as they pursued their dreams of earning a university degree during a global pandemic and a renewed fight for racial justice.
“You faced new crises and opportunities to redefine our nation and our roles in it. You faced the challenge to confront America’s legacy of anti-blackness and anti-brownness as well as the resurgence of anti-AAPI hate and attacks,” Hwang said. “In the face of so many challenges, so much trauma, what did you do? You are graduating today. To paraphrase the great Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim: You’re still here. To paraphrase the great disco queen Gloria Gaynor: You have survived—not only survived, you have succeeded with courage, perseverance, creativity, flexibility, and grace.”
During his remarks, Hwang reflected on his path to becoming a renowned playwright, librettist, screenwriter and professor. Hwang grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, born to Chinese immigrant parents, who faced discrimination because of their ethnicity.
After being exposed to theater in college at Stanford University, Hwang started writing his own plays—about his parents, about immigration and assimilation, about racism. “I found my voice,” he said. He got his first big break in New York after Asian American actors who fought for more representation and roles in theater opened doors for more Asian American stories to be produced onstage. His first play, FOB, which examined the immigrant experience from an Asian American perspective, won an Obie Award in 1980-81 for best new American play.
Hwang has adapted numerous award-winning librettos for operas and collaborated with some of the most renowned composers. He is active in various organizations that support the arts and the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. He serves on the boards of the Dramatists Guild, Young Playwrights Inc. and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.
Hwang reminded the Class of 2022 that they are graduating during a pivotal moment in the history of the U.S. and challenged them to fight for a brighter future.
“Looking out today we see the future of this country, of BIPOC and white allies working and thriving together. America is not being replaced, America is being renewed,” Hwang said. “As you enter your chosen field, represent, raise your voices, be loud, be proud, because the very thing that makes you unique, different, idiosyncratic—even weird—that is your superpower.”
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.