MOSCOW – Graduations are full of accolades for those at the top of their class. University of Idaho’s commencement speaker, Jim Lemley, was not one of these.To 2013 graduates Lemley described himself as a “spectacularly mediocre student” who spent time on academic probation and as a freshman was called an “academic juvenile delinquent.”
“Now, here I am at the podium,” said Lemley, an independent film and TV producer and second generation Vandal who graduated from UI with a degree in marketing in 1988.
Lemley’s film projects include “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Wanted,” starring Angelina Jolie, and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” winner of two Golden Globes and nominated for four Academy Awards.
The first thing he did at the podium was take a photo of the crowd.
“My daughter asked me for a picture, and since I don’t have any from my graduation – everybody smile! I’m going to Tweet this out now,” he joked.
When his fellow graduates were receiving their diplomas he was driving to New York City, “fueled by a massive hangover.”
“Magic found me as a student in your shoes,” he said, explaining that after he read the liner notes for U2’s “Joshua Tree” album he cold-called the executive director of Island Records about 20 times asking for a job, which he got.
After a brief stint in music he turned to movies, which he described as “many art forms rolled into one,” and moved to Los Angeles.
“Life will tell you what you need to hear,” he told the graduates about following their dreams. “You have to get better at interpreting what it has to tell you. You have to have courage to follow what it tells you.”
He joined Icon Productions and met Mel Gibson, working with him for 11 years on films including “Braveheart,” “Maverick,” “Payback,” and “We Were Soldiers.” He rose to become CEO of Icon Entertainment International, based in London.
Movies, like life, involve problem solving and improvising, he said, describing a moment in 1996 when he was working on the film “Anna Karenina” outside the Moscow Kremlin. There were 250 extras and the Russian Army had trucked in five acres of snow. President Boris Yeltsin was supposed to be gone, but suddenly returned and Lemley was told to get out. He managed to “improvise” for five hours and smuggle the film out in his backpack.
“Life will continually test you,” he said at the May 11 commencement. “There is no script. You do not know what will happen next. Get rid of preconceived notions of how the rest of your life will play out.”
He did when, at age 29, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He overcame the disease but it left him with an understanding that life is finite.
He asked graduates to give back, “not everybody has money but everybody has time,” advised them to never hold a grudge and left them with the message to “live each and every day of your life in pursuit of your personal truth.”