What becomes a legend most? USV graduates were privileged to observe a legend at the 2018 Commencement ceremony.
There, Floyd Norman, the animator, writer, and artist who was the first African-American artist at the Walt Disney company, accepted his Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy degree from USV. Throughout his continually evolving career, Floyd exemplified legendary characteristics.
During his address, Floyd asked graduates to imagine how it felt for him to take the path he has walked. “At the Disney studio, I have had the opportunity to work with remarkable talents on any number of projects. Imagine working with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke on Mary Poppins. Imagine the celebrated author Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy walk into your office and plop down and have a conversation. Imagine hanging out with Tom Hanks on a movie set, or enjoying a glass of wine with Helen Mirren. These were things I could not have imagined when I was a child, and yet all these things came my way. As I look back on it, I had the greatest job in the world: to create, to tell stories, to entertain and maybe to inspire. And that is the great opportunity all of you have.”
The 2016 documentary of his life, Floyd Norman: An Animated Life, provides a rich backdrop to understanding the path he took, which led him from working directly with Walt Disney on The Jungle Book, to animating the original opening sequence to the hit TV show The Soul Train, to wind through Pixar for Monsters, Inc and back to Disney again. As was mentioned in the trailer for the documentary, “Every time there is a great moment in animation, look around… there’s Floyd Norman!”
“This guys is a real legend… there aren’t that many like Mr Norman. Their names are etched on the Disney lot.”
Even a casual conversation with Floyd Norman reveals a method to what makes this man who he is. For his 80th birthday, colleagues created a video tribute to him and what has come to be called the act of “Floydering”. He explains what it means by saying, “I discovered that I did my best writing while walking around. You sit at your desk, and all you do is nod off. But, if you get up and go for a walk, that’s when all the ideas come. I get my best ideas when I’m walking around.”
Introducing Floyd to graduates, Dean of the College Jerome Solomon said, “In 2000, Mr. Norman was retired by Disney, but as
he puts it, he just won’t leave. Mr Norman has occupied a spot at Disney Publishing recently and continues to have an impact on animation as an artist and as a mentor. I am going to go a little off script here: This guy is a real legend. I spent seventeen years in these industries and you talk to anyone at Disney and mention his name, they know about him. There aren’t that many like Mr Norman. Their names are etched on the Disney lot.”
For the entire USV community, and particularly for the graduates of 2018, Floyd Norman has inspired us, and urged us to be ourselves fully and consistently, in all we do.