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Alumni Shine In This Year’s 91st Academy Awards

In the Academy Awards having a winning speech is almost as important as winning an Oscar, and some of this year’s speeches professed some alma mater love.

An Oscars speech is no easy task. Some acceptance speeches are “unprepared” written on napkins pulled from the inside pocket of a suit coat, while others are dictated from the heart. No matter what the preparation is, Oscars speeches – for better or worse – are always a focal point for the evening!

Let’s see what this year’s winners had to say.

Spike Lee, Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman

Morehouse University (BA)

New York University (MFA) (Professor)

Spike Lee received his first Oscar on Sunday night and gave an acceptance speech that touched on the sentimental side of Black History Month. Lee encouraged others to get involved, while also noting his grandmother’s beloved gift of putting Lee through college.

My grandmother, [inaudible], who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of social security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me Spikie-poo — she put me through Morehouse College and N.Y.U. grad film. N.Y.U.!

Morehouse College and N.Y.U. were given special shouts showing the Academy Award winner’s love for not only education but for his alma mater. While Lee’s exact story may not be relatable for everyone, his message is. It’s not easy for students to pay for their college education and sacrifices are often made.

Alumni donations are ever more important to help fund scholarships and programs. Lee is the perfect example of the importance of engaging alumni and maintaining a relationship with notable alumni, as he understands the hardships one can face while studying. Spike Lee is currently a professor at NYU.

Ludwig Göransson, Best Original Score for Black Panther

University of Southern California

It was a big year for Marvel’s Black Panther as it received seven Oscar nominations and took home three Academy Awards. Ludwig Göransson won this year’s best original score and his speech reflected a special moment as the life of a college student.

Working with you has been an incredible honor, I remember 12 years ago we were sitting in our dorm room at USC writing the score for your first film, and we’re here 12 years later celebrating one of the most important cinematic moments in history.

The touching sentiment featured by Ludwig showcased how hard work and dreams can bring unforgettable memories and achievements.

Notable Alumni Were Also Oscar Winners

NYU stole the spotlight in this year’s Oscars with four famous alumni winning three Academy Awards.

Lady Gaga, Best Original Song for Shallow from A Star Is Born

NYU Tisch School of the Arts

The incredibly talented Lady Gaga made history for being the first person to be nominated for both Best Actress and Best Original Song – and capped off her night by winning the latter.

Gaga was clearly blown away with winning the Oscar, shedding tears during her speech and having an emotional moment backstage.

NYU Alumnus Lady Gaga said,

…And if you are at home, and you’re sitting on your couch and you’re watching this right now, all I have to say is that this is hard work. I’ve worked hard for a long time, and it’s not about, you know…it’s not about winning. But what it’s about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There’s a discipline for passion. And it’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going. Thank you!

Mahershala Ali, Best Support Actor for Green Book

NYU Tisch School of the Arts (MFA)

Mahershala Ali took home his second Oscar on Sunday night for his role in Greenbook as Dr. Shirley in the deep south pre-civil rights early 1960s film.

Ali dedicated his speech to both Dr. Shirley,

I want to thank Dr. Shirley, trying to capture [his] essence pushed me to my ends which is a reflection of the person he was and the life that he lived.

And then his grandmother.

…who has been in my ear my entire life, telling me if I don’t at first succeed, try, try again … always pushing me to think positively. She has got me over the hump every step of the way.

Mahershala Ali’s grandmother’s advice was spot on as Ali made history as the first black actor to win two best-supporting roles in the Academy Awards.

Kevin Willmott, Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman

NYU Tisch School of the Arts

University of Kansas (Professor)

Kevin Willmott won his first Academy Award with Spike Lee for co-writing the BlacKkKlansman. Not only is Willmott an alumnus of NYU, but he is also a professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas.

Willmott who shared the Oscar did not participate in the acceptance speech but stood by Spike Lee’s side.

Incredible Alumni Also In Spot Light

Other institutions that had big winners as well!

Rami Malek, Best Actor for Bohemian Rhapsody

University of Evansville (BA)

This 91st Oscars were full of rock sensation Queen. From the opening act to dedicated speeches throughout the show, the beloved band is back! Rami Malek won the prestigious Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in the extraordinary film Bohemian Rhapsody.   

Malek’s acceptance was one of the nights best speeches honoring his mother, his younger self and immigration.

Starting of his speech the actor shouted to his mother,

I love you, lady!

And then reflected on what he would say to his younger self.

That kid was struggling with his identity … I think to anyone struggling… we made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself. The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this.

Malek concluded his speech by touching on immigration saying,

I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I am a first generation American, and part of my story is being written right now and I could not be more grateful… this moment is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Rami is not the only one treasuring this moment, but all the fans who were moved by his incredible role in bringing back to life Queen, Freddie Mercury and their memorable performance when they took the stage at Live Aid in 1985.

Fun Fact: Queen is an incredibly well-educated rock band.

Freddie Mercury – Ealing Art College, studying graphic art and design.

Roger Taylor –  East London Polytechnic (BSc) who later went on to study dentistry at London Hospital Medical College.

John Deacon – University of London Chelsea College, attended for Electronics.

Brian May – Imperial College, Bachelors of Science in mathematics and physics, who later went on to earn his Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Olivia Colman, Best Actress for The Favourite

Homerton College, Cambridge Old Vic Theatre School

The best actress and best speech of the night goes to Olivia Colman who hilariously started her speech with,

Oh, it’s quite stressful. This is hilarious, I got an Oscar!

Colman played Queen Anne in the 10 times nominated film the Favourite. She was clearly flabbergasted with her win who heartwarmingly mumbled on – including blowing off the teleprompter, reflecting her time as a cleaner and checking to see if her children were watching the Academy Awards!

My kids who are at home and watching, look! If you´re not, then, kind of well done but I sort of hope you are. This is not going to happen again!

Claire Sinley, Best Documentary Short for Period. End of Sentence.

University of Pennsylvania

The 20-year old Executive Producer for the documentary Period. End of Sentence is only a sophomore in college at the University of Pennsylvania. The project started nearly six years ago when Sinley, as a freshman in high school joined Girls Learn International club and became aware of the hardships girls around the globe face when menstruating – often prevented from attending school or forced to drop off.

The girls spent time fundraising The Pad Project to help provide affordable and reliable menstrual pads to women in a rural community in India.

The project was in need of more funds and that is when it was suggested to ask Rayka Zehtabchi to become involved.

Rayka Zehtabchi, Best Documentary Short for Period. End of Sentence.

University of Southern California of Cinematic Arts

Rayka Zehtabchi, the film’s director traveled to India twice documenting the arrival of the menstrual pad machine funded by The Pad Project, working nearly for free.

She began her acceptance speech with,

I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!

University of Southern California of Cinematic Arts said, “when your first project of our film school takes you straight to the Academy Awards, there’s a lot to celebrate.”

Read more about Period. End of Sentence here.

Congratulations To All

Watching the 91st Academy Awards this year was exciting for everyone. For the team here at LiveAlumni, we not only loved being able to identify these star alums, but also enjoy having the privilege of working with many of these alumni alma mater.

Congratulations to all this year’s Oscar winners, and to every university that did an outstanding job in preparing their alumni well!

Want to learn more about who won the Oscar´s this year? Click here.

Interested in celebrities who support higher education? Click here


Sources & Additional Reading:

[1] Oscar Winners,

[3] NYU Alumni,

[4] Lady Gaga Speech,

[5] Ludwig Goransson,

[6] Oscars,

[7] Rami Maleks Speech,

[8] Olivia Colman Speech,


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