Actor Bill Pullman to deliver keynote address at 2017 Warren Wilson commencement

February 17, 2017

“Independence Day” star will underscore importance of community at sons’ alma mater

Bill Pullman will deliver the keynote address at Warren Wilson College's 2017 commencement. Photo:  Reggie Tidwell
Bill Pullman will deliver the keynote address at Warren Wilson College’s 2017 commencement. Photo: Reggie Tidwell

Celebrity sightings in Asheville are nothing new. The world’s top actors, musicians and leaders have helped make “the land of the sky” a well-known tourist destination. An oft-understated feature of the city is its reputation as a mecca for higher learning. This is a truth Warren Wilson College’s 2017 commencement speaker, actor Bill Pullman, knows better than most.

Pullman, who starred in the “Independence Day” movie franchise, has “a little bit of envy” toward students who graduate from Warren Wilson College. “It probably would have been a place that I would have picked,” he said.

While the College didn’t appear on his radar in time for his own higher education, Pullman’s sons – Jack and Lewis – did make their way to Warren Wilson. Jack Pullman graduated in 2012 with a degree in art. His brother, Lewis Pullman, earned a social work degree in 2015, while also following in dad’s footsteps with starring roles in College theater productions.

“Lewis’ genius was finding that social work program. The work that they do really is the heart and soul of Warren Wilson with their sense of social justice and practical experience – crafting your professional engagement with service. Lewis got so much out of that. I think his emotional intelligence gained incredibly, and the academic intelligence was good, too,” Pullman said.

Warren Wilson College President Steven Solnick said Pullman is the keynote speaker because he aligns with the school’s mission and strategic goals.

“Beyond his stage and screen success, Bill Pullman is a deep thinker and an agriculturist,” Solnick said. “Warren Wilson prides itself on having the nation’s top college farm and a commitment to academic excellence, sustainability and social justice. Bill can speak to all of these core values because he lives them, and I believe he will provide the charge our graduates need to hear before heading into the world.”

While Pullman is leaving room to tailor his speech to specific global issues in May, he plans to look closely at the idea of “changing the world.” With so many different changemakers trying to engage in different ways, Pullman said it is harder to know what a new and “changed” world looks like.

“How is it that we’ve gotten into such silos? When we thought we were all together changing the world, we actually were in a lot of different realms. The connections between those realms have been increasingly more difficult to make,” he said.

Pullman sees the answer in building community. He and his wife, Tamara, put the idea to the test in 2011 when they founded Hollywood Orchard. The nonprofit’s mission is “to better neighborhood quality of life by operating a community orchard that is a teaching model for sustainability” in the Beachwood Canyon area of Los Angeles, California.

The desire to plant and grow something is another obvious connection to Warren Wilson College, which boasts a nearly 300-acre farm. As a child, Pullman worked on farms in upstate New York, and he operates a ranch in Montana.

In addition to his agrarian endeavors, Pullman maintains a hefty acting schedule. USA Network recently picked up the new series “The Sinner,” which he says is not just a “whodunit, but why done it” show. Pullman stars as investigator Harry Ambrose who tries to find out why a mother, played by Jessica Biel, committed “a horrible act of violence in a fit of rage but has no idea why she did it,” according to TV Guide, which did not list a premiere date.

He stars alongside Angelica Houston, Julia Stiles and David Morse in the upcoming movie “Trouble.” The Hollywood Reporter calls the film an “indie comedy-drama” centered on siblings “whose differences entangle the fate of an old friend.

Finally, Pullman takes on the title role in the forthcoming western “The Ballad of Lefty Brown.” Peter Fonda and Jim Caviezel co-star, and Lewis Pullman also makes an appearance. “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” is part of the South By Southwest film festival with a showing slated for March 13, 2017.

As he prepares to send the class of 2017 into the world, Pullman seems confident in the graduates’ capabilities.

“There’s something about Warren Wilson,” he said. “You can gain a lot of very important things and skills that you carry over into whatever you decide to do.”

Warren Wilson College’s commencement ceremony is Saturday, May 20, 2017.