The performance arts were celebrated Monday night at the 2017 NYU Tisch Gala, where Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) and Andre Holland (Moonlight) were honored with the Big Apple Award for Artistic Achievement.
Students, artists and alumni alike wore their best to Cipriani's at 42nd in the name of their beloved institution. "When I first got the call a couple months ago asking if I would be OK with being honored, I thought, 'Well, y'all must've called the wrong person because I'm surely not old enough to be honored.' I mean, I just graduated last year, right?" Holland, a Tisch acting graduate of 2006, said to the crowd, which included Spike Lee, Randy Jackson and Tisch honorary chairs Alec and Hilaria Baldwin.
Gurira, who graduated in 2004, flew in for the gala, as she is currently filming Marvel's Black Panther in Atlanta. "I'm just very thankful I made it here," she told The Hollywood Reporter upon arrival. "My employers were very kind to help me get out in time to make it to this and to go back to shoot again tomorrow morning. It was a close call, but they got me here."
The event included performances by the Sean Curran Dance Company and the current Tisch graduate acting class, with Hilaria Baldwin later in the evening leading the room in "Happy Birthday" for her husband Alec, who was turning 59.
"We usually bolt out at some point," she said, "but I told him I really, really wanted to stay 'til the end."
Colorful lights were cast down upon the dining room, with host Michael McElroy and fellow alum Karen Pittman addressing the crowd.
That sense of community reverberated throughout the evening's speeches, with both Holland and Gurira referring to each other as close friends. Holland even mentioned that every job he's worked since graduating has involved a fellow Tisch alum, including on Moonlight with fellow graduate Mahershala Ali.
"Really it's about the people that I became very close to, who are family to me, the community that I created, that I gained there," Gurira said. "And all that I learned, really, you get transformed there."
That transformation, the actress later told students, is the most important thing any acting student can focus on. "Stop thinking about your freaking career," she said. "Stay in the moment, trusting that finding your truest, most empowered self is the best thing you can do for the career that you will ultimately have."