NYU Tisch Gala Honors Susan Kelechi Watson and Sharon Chang

Kwaku Alston
Susan Kelechi Watson

The Tisch alums were honored at the event in Brooklyn.

New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts hosted its annual gala on Monday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. The event honored alums of the program Susan Kelechi Watson and Sharon Chang, and Martin Scorsese and Alec and Hilaria Baldwin served as honorary co-chairs.

Phylicia Rashad presented Watson with the honor, remembering when she first met Watson at Howard University, where Rashad was her teacher. 

“When I met her and I looked at her, she reminded me of a young fawn. Her eyes were so clear, so open,” Rashad said. “She was so curious about everything, quiet though, a little bit shy at first. She never failed to ask the important question. She never failed to ask the question that was asked least. She was relentless in her quest for understanding and truth.”

Rashad plays the mother of Watson’s character Beth Pearson on This Is Us, and Rashad said she jumped at the opportunity to play the role. “It was one of the most challenging things ever because there’s part of me that’s in a scene and there’s another part of me that’s looking at her in complete awe,” Rashad said. “There is nothing more gratifying to a teacher, or one who imagines themselves a teacher, than to see the student arise and attain levels of mastery one after the other, and she is that.”

When Watson took the podium, she spoke about expanding her horizons at NYU’s graduate acting program. “The reason why I feel called to this art is there is a truth that is in all of us that connects us all that we need to see mirrored for one another,” Watson said, adding that she was encouraged to explore roles she wouldn’t have initially.  

“I thought these aren’t characters that were created to be black. These aren’t characters that come from my urban background or my suburban background,” she said. “They taught me that all of my backgrounds, everything that made up who I am is necessary to tell this story through my perspective. These are the tools that are going to make these characters specific.”

On the carpet before the event, Watson spoke about playing Beth on This Is Us. “For me truth always comes first. However we can as specific as we can about what it’s like to be in this intimate relationship for many years. They’ve been with each other for more than half their lives,” Watson said. “It’s a relationship where both he and I try to mine it for what’s good about, what’s complicated about it, what’s hard about it, what’s beautiful, what’s dark. We keep trying to find those things so we can be a mirror to people who are going through something similar.”

Film producer Sharon Chang was also honored at the event, and they screened previews of her HBO films — the documentary It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It and O.G. — which both explore the inner workings of mass incarceration in America from within the American prison system.

“Our humanity needs a great leap — powered by courageous art, shaped by radical imagination, inspired by inclusive narrative and sustained through authentic embodiment,” said Chang.