Jeff Perry was the special guest alumni speaker at the College of Fine Arts commencement ceremony on May 10.

A gifted actor, Perry has starred in a wide range of roles across television, film, and stage.

Perry currently stars on the ABC hit series Scandal, opposite Kerry Washington, where he brilliantly plays the fan favorite role of Cyrus Beene, the White House chief of staff. The immensely popular show just completed production of its third season. Before starring on Scandal, Perry was most widely recognized for his role in the long-running CBS series Nash Bridges. For six seasons, Perry starred as the die-hard Grateful Dead fan and police inspector Harvey Leek, opposite Don Johnson.

Perry is a co-founder of Chicago’s internationally acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, which he started in 1976 with Gary Sinise and Terry Kinney while a theatre student at Illinois State University. Perry has acted in or directed more than 40 productions for the nonprofit company, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County for which he received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play. In 2012, Perry was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play for his work in the off-Broadway hit Tribes.

Perry’s many acting credits at Steppenwolf include Balm in Gilead (also off-Broadway), The Time of Your Life (also Seattle and San Francisco), Picasso at the Lapin Agile (world premiere), The Grapes of Wrath (also Broadway and London), The Caretaker (also Broadway) and Streamers (also Kennedy Center). Currently, the theatre conducts up to 16 plays and nearly 700 performances each year.

In 2011, Perry received an honorary doctorate from Illinois State University in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the field of theatre.

Perry was born and raised in Highland Park. He is married to three-time Emmy-winning casting director Linda Lowy, and currently resides in Los Angeles with his family.

In his commencement address, Perry spoke very personally to the graduating students:


YOU women and men, you humans who have chosen a life in ART are just about to explode on out of here. This ISU, this cantankerous, inspiring place, this cocoon of art built for doing dangerous things. Because I went here and because I’m REALLY old, I can actually promise you; this place will stick in your heart. Through super thick and razor thin this place, this time, these people will sustain you, will now be in your DNA as you explore and redefine and make art out of passion, just like you’ve done for the last four years.

However grateful you are for this diamond in the cornfield, I gotta imagine that it is just sinking in right? You are suddenly, shockingly, blissfully, terrifyingly untethered… from CLASS, PRESCRIBED METHODOLOGY, GRADES, TESTS and FACULTY OPINIONS and JUDGMENTS.

THE whole wide world is about to become your class, a vast waterfall of writing, dancing, music making, acting, and visual art of every stripe pouring forth for you to see, hear, feel, soak up and soak in. Everyone gets an opinion now, critics are paid for them, audiences express them with their wallets, people who can pay you for your art, who can, if you let them, represent the difference between you doing what you love and doing something less, will now express their opinions with profoundly personal thumbs ups and thumbs down…

Jeff’s complete address is available online.