Flinn Scholars and Common: A private hour of engaging conversation

November 22, 2021

By Matt Ellsworth

Flinn Scholars gathered for an exclusive, intimate hour-long conversation with award-winning hip-hop artist and actor Common, who was on the Arizona State University campus last week as the Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecturer. 

The more than 30 Scholars in attendance, representing ASU, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona, had the opportunity to ask Common questions about his life, art, and activism.

Common, a rapper, writer, activist and Academy, Grammy, Emmy, and Golden Globe award winner, talked about how he came to love music and acting growing up in Chicago, the sources from which he derives inspiration, the longtime role of music in social movements, and the importance of staying optimistic and finding what you love.

His positive, upbeat message resonated with the Flinn Scholars.

“I tend to be a little bit cynical … so hearing about the impact of optimism on not only personal success but also on improving creativity and improving overall productivity was really inspiring to me,” said Amanda Schuerman, a Class of 2019 Flinn Scholar attending ASU. “I think tomorrow I’m going to wake up and think about what I’m grateful for before starting the day.”

Sakina Lord, a Class of 2021 Flinn Scholar attending NAU, said she was impressed with how thorough and meaningful Common’s answers were to the Scholars’ questions.

“His thoughts on creativity and being a creator really struck home with me,” Lord said. “And how you don’t have to be known as an individual and hero to everyone to make an impact on other people’s lives.”

Photo courtesy of Arizona State University

Common was at ASU Nov. 15 to give the 2021 Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecture, sponsored by Barrett, The Honors College. His hour with the Scholars was held before the formal lecture.

“Having this personal access and ability to interact with an acclaimed artist, actor and thinker such as Common is just one example of what makes the Flinn Scholarship so unique, special, and rewarding,” said Anne Lassen, vice president, scholarship and education initiatives at the Flinn Foundation.  

The Scholars asked Common questions about his journey to loving music, how his music has created community and impacted social movements, who his mentors have been, and his advice for advocacy work.

“Hearing how music and art can fuel social movements is a really powerful perspective, because typically we think of social-movement organizing as happening in politics or in the legal world, but it’s important to recognize that it’s also art that drives movements and social change,” Schuerman said.

The Flinn Scholars Program last week announced 80 Semifinalists for the Class of 2022 Flinn Scholarship. These high-school seniors, from a diverse mix of cities and schools, have been invited to interviews in December. The Flinn Foundation will announce the Class of 2022 Flinn Scholars in April.

The ASU Centennial Lecture, which brings one influential scholar, artist, writer, or public figure to ASU each fall, is funded by an endowment awarded by the Flinn Foundation in 1985 to commemorate the university’s 100th year.