Nebraska is a state of pride.
Pride and loyalty, filmmaker Alexander Payne said Saturday, is what unites Nebraskans.
It’s what distinguishes him from other filmmakers, he said, and it’s what will stand out among the 3,221 spring semester graduates of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Graduates of UNL from outside Nebraska count, too, he said.
“You will go farther in life and get there quicker, precisely because you’re from Nebraska,” said Payne, the Omaha filmmaker bestowed an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from UNL on Saturday.
The proud Nebraskan delivered the commencement address at Pinnacle Bank Arena. His message to graduates was simple — find your own meaning of success and follow your dreams, even if it takes you decades to get there.
For Payne to earn the title of Academy Award-winning filmmaker, he said he had to live like a student until his late 30s.
Payne, who grew up in the same Dundee neighborhood of Omaha as Warren Buffett, studied history and Spanish literature at Stanford University before earning a Masters of Fine Arts in film production from UCLA.
He went on to direct the 2013 film "Nebraska," a nod to his home state. And he always looks for opportunities to squeeze in clips of Nebraska in other films.
His movies have been nominated for 18 Oscars. He's won twice, for best adapted screenplay for "Sideways" and "The Descendants."
His way of defining success, he told graduates, isn’t in the awards or the recognition he enjoys today. It’s in looking back at his journey to get there.
For Payne, now 57, his journey meant postponing financial security, marriage and children until later in life. Overcoming everything he needed to get there is his story of success.
“I didn’t have kids until just recently,” he said. “I never made much money until I was over 40.”
Payne advised graduates to reflect on how much work and effort it took them to make it to Saturday and to look forward to what comes next.
Some graduates will continue school, others will start jobs a week after graduation, but he advised everyone to keep working until they achieve what their heart desires.
Nicholas D'Agosto ("Final Destination 5") attended Creighton Prep in Omaha when he was discovered by Alexander Payne and cast in the film "Election." Since then, D'Agosto has been in more than 30 films and TV shows.
Farrah Abraham, "Teen Mom OG," arrives at the MTV Movie Awards at the Nokia Theatre on April 12, 2015, in Los Angeles. Abraham was born in Omaha.
Moon Bloodgood, who starred in "Terminator Salvation" and the TV series "Falling Skies," poses backstage at the TNT and TBS Network 2014 Upfront Presentations at Madison Square Garden in New York. Bloodgood was born in Alliance.
Samantha Ware of "Glee," "Barry" and numerous theater credits is from Lincoln.
Model Ashley Graham attends the FULLBEAUTY Brands re-launching event of
fullbeauty.com at Guastavino's on Thursday, April 2, 2015, in New York. Graham is from Lincoln.
Author Nicholas Sparks poses at the premiere of the film "The Best of Me" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on Oct. 7, 2014, in Los Angeles. Sparks was born in Omaha.
Actress Janine Turner, star of "Northern Exposure" and "Strong Medicine," is from Lincoln.
Television journalist Paula Zahn was born in Omaha.
Scott Porter, who starred on "Friday Night Lights" and "The Good Wife," was on the sidelines decked out in Husker gear during a game in 2007. Porter was born in Omaha.
Gabrielle Union arrives at the 16th annual InStyle and Warner Bros. Golden Globes afterparty at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Jorge Garcia, shown with Sarah Jones in the Fox series "Alcatraz," was born in Omaha.
Actress Jaime King is from Omaha.
Alexander Payne, shown at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards in 2012, is from Omaha.
Actor Michael Biehn grew up in Lincoln.
Actor Justin Bruening is from Chadron.
Actor Lucas Cruikshank is from Columbus.
Actress Lindsay Shaw is from Lincoln.
Adam DeVine, shown at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards , graduated from Millard South in Omaha.
Actress Marg Helgenberger is from North Bend.
Marlon Brando, The Godfather
Marlon Brando, shown in a scene from "The Godfather," was from Omaha.
Abby Miller, a cast member in the FX series "Justified," is from Clay Center.
Henry Fonda, shownOct. 14, 1978, is from Grand Island.
Hilary Swank, seen at eOne Films U.S. premiere of "You're Not You," is from Lincoln.
Dancer Fred Astaire was from Omaha.
Ev Williams, the Nebraska native who co-founded Twitter, spent a little more than a year at UNL.
Musician Matthew Sweet
Dick Cavett, on stage during the “Dick Cavett's Watergate" panel at the PBS 2014 Summer TCA, is from Lincoln
Conor Oberst, shown performing at the Shaky Knees Music Festival in 2014, is from Omaha.
Nick Nolte, attending the L.A. premiere of "Gangster Squad" at the Grauman's Chinese Theater in 2013, is from Omaha.
President Gerald Ford, shown during a National Security Council meeting at the White House, was from Omaha.
Johnny Carson, the king of late night TV, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Guitarist James Valentine of Maroon 5, shown at the iHeartRadio Theater in 2014, is from Lincoln.
Film and television actor Robert Taylor, shown in 1953, is from Filley.
"O Pioneers!" author Willa Cather graduated from the University of Nebraska.
Harley Jane Cozak, an actress known for her roles in "Arachnophobia," "When Harry Met Sally" and "Parenthood," grew up in Lincoln.
Preston Hillier is from Lincoln and has appeared on "Nashville," "Macguyver" and many more shows.
149. Swoosie Kurtz
149. Swoosie Kurtz 1944- Actress
The Omaha-born daughter of an Air Force colonel is a two-time Tony and Emmy Award winner who appears regularly on TV, including a recent six-season run on the CBS hit sitcom "Mike & Molly."
Larry the Cable Guy
Dan Whitney, aka Larry the Cable Guy
James Coburn, holding his Oscar up to his cheek after winning for best supporting actor for his role in "Affliction" in 1999, is from Laurel.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser got his master's degree from the University of Nebraska.
L. Ron Hubbard
L Ron Hubbard, who created Scientology, is from Tilden.
Amy Heidemann of Karmin is from Seward.
Actor Chris Klein went to high school in Omaha.
Actor John Beasley is from Omaha.
Brandon Sanderson was born in Lincoln and now lives in Utah. He is best known for finishing Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series "The Wheel of Time."
David Janssen of "The Fugitive" is from Naponee.
Actor David Doyle of "Charlie's Angels" was from Lincoln.
The late actress Dorothy McGuire was from Omaha.
Randy Meisner (center) of the Eagles is from Scottsbluff.
Bryan Greenberg ("Friends with Benefits" and "Bride Wars") attends a special screening of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" at the SVA Theatre on April, 28, 2015, in New York. Greenberg is from Omaha.
Reach the writer at dmuñoz@journalstar.com or 402-473-7214.