We've moved! The School of Drama operations are relocating to Condon Hall until Summer 2024, while Hutchinson Hall undergoes seismic upgrades. See additional information.

You are here

Tony Award-winning producer and actor Ron Simons to deliver 2022 Commencement address

Submitted by Hillary Long on April 14, 2022 - 8:36am
Ron Simons sitting
Four-time Tony Award-winning producer Ron Simons is scheduled to address the Class of 2022 during commencement ceremonies on June 11.Photo by Bobby Quillard for SimonSays Entertainment

Four-time Tony Award-winning producer Ron Simons, a University of Washington alumnus who is well known for his work on Broadway and in Hollywood, will deliver the 2022 Commencement address for the 147th ceremony, which takes place at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium on June 11.

He will be the first commencement speaker to address a graduating class in person since 2019. Commencement ceremonies were held virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The UW is hosting two in-person ceremonies: the first for the graduating Class of 2022 on June 11; the second for graduates in the classes of 2020 and 2021 will be held on June 12. Simons will speak at the ceremony on June 11. The featured speaker for the June 12 ceremony will be announced soon.

“I can honestly say I am honored to be asked to be the commencement speaker,” Simons said. “As a queer Black man, I should — statistically speaking — be dead or behind bars. I’m looking forward to sharing my story and my experience with graduates to help bolster and inspire their own dreams.”

Simons is the most Tony Award-winning African-American producer of all time and is known as an inclusive visionary who guides every endeavor with compassion and purpose. He has produced numerous Broadway shows about marginalized populations; acted in movies and TV hits including “Law & Order”; and built a reputation for his business acumen during a nearly 20-year career in technology.

“We are deeply honored to count Ron Simons as an alumnus and delighted that he will be the featured speaker at our first in-person commencement in two years,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “Ron’s pathbreaking achievements in theater and his work to enable future generations of UW students to pursue their passion for the arts are inspiring, and I know our graduating class will be thrilled that he is marking this momentous occasion with them.”

Simons fell in love with acting early in life, graduating from Columbia University with degrees in computer science and drama. But after graduation, he opted to enter the technology industry and help support his family, setting aside his passion for Broadway and acting. Nearly two decades later, at age 39, he returned to theater, earning a Master of Fine Arts from the UW School of Drama.

“My MFA absolutely helped me understand what makes a good story and how to dissect one from an acting point of view, to understand from beat to beat what is going on in the piece,” said Simons, 61. “That is something that I learned at UW that differentiates me from many producers on Broadway. Frequently, they are not actors and they’re not dramaturges. To have the ability to have both a business understanding of things and then also to have the creative backbone has proven to be quite helpful.”

Today, he leads SimonSays Entertainment, a renowned and award-winning implementation and production company. He’s won Tonys for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (Tony Award for Best Musical); the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” (Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical); and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (Tony Award for Best Play). His fourth Tony Award was for August Wilson’s “Jitney.” Simons was nominated for a Tony for “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.”

His recent “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” a production that broke ground as the first Broadway play written by, directed by, produced by and starring all Black men, closed in December. He’s currently heading up production of the revival of Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking choreopoem “for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf,” directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Camille A. Brown. The show is currently in previews and officially opens on Broadway on April 20.

Simons said his career path should serve as an example to graduates that they’re just embarking on a long journey, and that they shouldn’t feel chained to decisions they make today.

“Don’t fear, never fear,” he said. “Because don’t think that your first job is going to be your last job, don’t think that your first career is going to be your last career. Don’t talk yourself out of why you shouldn’t change. Rather, lean into why you should change, why you should pursue your passions, why you should work to make your dreams come true, and know that there are many different ways that you can get to that dream.”

Simons says there’s a renaissance of BIPOC storytelling happening on Broadway following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Today, there are multiple opportunities for people of color to share stories and build professional careers in theater. For years, Simons said, he was the only Black man in the room during production meetings for Broadway shows. Now, he’s fostering a new cohort of Black producers and directors, creating a pipeline for new talent and creative expression.

“You can have multiple plays from many cultural backgrounds, and they can do well, they can thrive, they can find their audience,” Simons said. “I’m trying to break molds everywhere I look.”

He is a recipient of the Heritage Award from Columbia College’s Black Alumni Council, Columbia College’s John Jay Award, 150 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Washington, and is a Johnson & Johnson Leadership Award Fellow, IFP Cannes’ Producer’s Network Fellow and a Sundance Producers Summit Fellow.

Simons was also honored in 2017 as the Emerging Producer of the Year by the National Black Theatre Festival. In addition to degrees from Columbia University and UW, he also holds a Master of Business Administration from Columbia Business School. He’s a member of the Producers Guild of America.

News Category: 
Related Departments: