Two high-achieving Lawrence University alumni—an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and the president of an acclaimed music school—will speak to graduates and receive honorary doctorate degrees during Lawrence’s 2024 Commencement weekend.

Pawo Choyning Dorji ’06, a Bhutanese filmmaker who was nominated for a 2022 Academy Award, will be the Commencement speaker on Sunday, June 9, and will be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Commencement is set for 10 a.m. on Main Hall Green.

James Gandre ’81, president of Manhattan School of Music in New York City, will deliver an address to graduates and their families at the Baccalaureate Service on Saturday, June 8. The multi-faith service is set for 2:30 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. Gandre will be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music degree at Commencement.

“We are thrilled to welcome these two accomplished Lawrentians back to campus as we celebrate the achievements of our 2024 graduates,” President Laurie A. Carter said. “Their journeys are wonderful examples of the power of a liberal arts education.”

Pawo Choyning Dorji ’06 profile
Pawo Choyning Dorji '06

Dorji’s debut film, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, drew international acclaim, earning major awards at film festivals and receiving a 2022 Oscar nomination in the Best International Feature Film category. It was filmed in a remote school in the Himalayas, 14,500 feet above sea level and a 14-day trek from the nearest motorable road. The location was so remote that the film had to be made with solar batteries and many in the cast had never seen the world outside their village.

“I am aware that for filmmakers across the world, an Oscar nomination is the crowning achievement of their creative careers, careers where they have worked hard and sacrificed so much to perfect the art of storytelling,” Dorji said at the time. “I feel extremely fortunate and blessed to find myself in this position with my directorial debut. This inspires and motivates me to work even harder.”

Dorji followed that with the release in 2023 of The Monk and the Gun, a satire also filmed in Bhutan. It won awards at multiple film festivals and was shortlisted for a 2024 Oscar. Variety magazine selected it as the fifth best film of 2023 in its annual best films of the year feature.

Dorji, a government major at Lawrence, was an award-winning photographer before launching his filmmaking career. He published two photo journals, Seeing Sacred: Light and Shadows and The Light of the Moon: The Legacy of Xuanzang of Tang. The latter was a five-year photo project to retrace the lost history of Buddhism.

James Gandre ’81 profile
James Gandre '81

Gandre returned to Manhattan School of Music as its president in 2013. He had served in various leadership positions at the school from 1985 to 2000 before taking on leadership roles at Roosevelt University in Chicago and the Chicago College of Performing Arts.

As president of Manhattan School of Music, Gandre has overseen $30 million in campus improvements, including a renovation of the school’s main performance hall, and the launch of an undergraduate degree in musical theatre. He also oversaw the creation of an online learning environment known as the Global Conservatoire, in partnership with London’s Royal College of Music and other institutions.

Gandre, a tenor vocalist, has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra and the London Classical Players as a soloist. He has completed more than 175 choral performances with a variety of organizations, including the New York Philharmonic, and has been featured on more than 20 commercial recordings. 

A Wisconsin native, Gandre majored in music performance (voice) at Lawrence. He earned his master’s degree (performance) from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1983 and his Ed.D. in higher education administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2001. 

His writing was included in Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shape Our Culture (2013) and he has been a contributor to two books, The Provost’s Handbook (2015) and LGBTQ Leadership in Higher Education (2022), both published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

See 2024 Commencement details here.