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Pixar pioneer tells U. grads not to fear the unknown

Published: Friday, May 4 2012 4:43 p.m. MDT

Elizabeth Roberts waves at family members during a convocation at the graduation ceremonies at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Elizabeth Roberts waves at family members during a convocation at the graduation ceremonies at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It's hard to believe someone as accomplished as Ed Catmull still "wrestles" with decisions regarding his career. But that's what he told the University of Utah's graduating class Friday.

The president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios said he straddles what he knows to be certain and what lies in the unknown, to develop new ideas and foster success.

"I have no doubts about everybody having the potential to be great," Catmull said, adding that individuals are only limited by "the fear of screwing up or making mistakes."

"We can't possibly see all the interdependencies that shape our lives, no matter how hard you look," he said. "If we step back and realize the full complexity and the number of unknown events, we'd be more appreciative of others and allow ourselves to be a little more careful about the conclusions we draw."

Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, delivers the commencement address during exercises at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012 (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, delivers the commencement address during exercises at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012 (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Catmull said the 2009 computer-animated feature film "Up" went through at least three versions before creators landed on the award-winning idea that played in theaters around the world.

"Everything is dodging bullets or taking them," he said. In life, "there will be ups and downs, but the goal is to put it together."

"If you believe, as I do, that your actions make a difference, then this means you do modify your reality, you do change your future," Catmull, one of the U.'s most famous alumni, added.

The U. conferred 8,366 degrees upon 7,659 students Friday; 5,513 of them bachelor's degrees. The most degrees were awarded in psychology, economics, exercise and sports science, mass communication, human development and family studies, nursing, accounting, biology, sociology, finance and mechanical engineering.

Tea Caine listens to the commencement address by Ed Catmull at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012. Catmull is the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Tea Caine listens to the commencement address by Ed Catmull at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012. Catmull is the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Honorary degrees were conferred upon A. Lorris Betz, former LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, Jerilyn S. McIntyre, Wataru "Wat" Misaka and Beverly Taylor Sorenson.

Information systems graduate and student commencement speaker Stephanie Roberson Tidwell challenged her classmates to continue to seek knowledge as their lives play out.

"As we move our tassels from one side of our caps to the other, I urge each of you to remember that though today we have graduated from the U., we are still students and it is only through an unyielding willingness to learn that we will succeed in creating a better world," she said.

U. President David Pershing congratulated the Class of 2012 for a "job well done," and encouraged graduates to look forward into "a world that desperately needs their enthusiasm and expertise."

Ballet dance graduate Alina Wright, with point shoes on her mortar board, listens to the address by Ed Catmull during commencement exercises at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012. Catmull is the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Ballet dance graduate Alina Wright, with point shoes on her mortar board, listens to the address by Ed Catmull during commencement exercises at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012. Catmull is the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder and president of Pixar Animation Studios. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Friday's grads join a growing alumni of more than 235,000 over the school's 163 years in operation. Commencement ceremonies for the S.J. Quinney School of Law will be held on May 11, with degrees being awarded to 137 students. The School of Medicine will hold commencement ceremonies on May 19, awarding degrees to 313 students.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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