May 2018 Commencement Speaker
Taylor Hanson is a multi-GRAMMY nominated singer, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur and Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame inductee, born and bred in Tulsa. He has worked in the music industry for more than 25 years, and sold over 16 million albums as a member of the pop-rock trio HANSON.
Beginning in 2014, Taylor spearheaded a new initiative, Food On The Move, focused on strengthening community partnership around the issues of hunger and eradicating food deserts in Tulsa and Oklahoma.
TU alumna Rilla Askew is the author of four novels, a book of stories and a collection of creative nonfiction.
A fifth generation Oklahoman, she graduated from The University of Tulsa with a BFA in Theatre Performance in 1980 before moving to New York to become an actress. In New York, Askew soon turned to writing plays and then fiction. In 1987, she enrolled in the writing program at Brooklyn College, where she received her MFA in 1989. She published her first book, Strange Business, a collection of stories set in a fictional small town in southeastern Oklahoma, in 1992. Critical and popular responses to her work soon followed. Askew is a PEN/Faulkner finalist, has received the American Book Award, the Myers Book Award and the Violet Crown Award. Her work has been included in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She has twice received the Western Heritage Award for Best Novel and is a three-time recipient of the Oklahoma Book Award.
Askew’s writing is deeply grounded in the Oklahoma landscape and experience. Her first novel, The Mercy Seat, was inspired by old stories about her family’s migration into Indian Territory in the late 1800s. She has written about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot in her novel Fire in Beulah and about the homeless and dispossessed during the Great Depression in her novel Harpsong. Her most recent novel, Kind of Kin, is the story of a fractured family and small-town community at the vortex of Oklahoma’s immigration laws. Her latest book, Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place, is a collection of creative nonfiction that posits Oklahoma, its history and character, as the most American of places. Askew’s essays and short fiction have appeared in Tin House, World Literature Today, Nimrod, TriQuarterly, The Daily Beast, The Daily Telegraph, and elsewhere.
A former Fellow at Civitella Ranieri in Umbertide, Italy, Askew was a featured reader at the 2008 International Chinese and World Literature Conference in Beijing. In 2009, she received the Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame and received the 2011 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She and her husband, actor Paul Austin, live in Norman, where Askew teaches creative writing at the University of Oklahoma.
G.T. Bynum was sworn in as the 40th Mayor of Tulsa on December 5, 2016.
Prior to his election as mayor, Bynum served for eight years on the Tulsa City Council. During that time, he was elected as the youngest City Council chairman in Tulsa history.
Throughout his time in Tulsa city government, Bynum has focused on fiscal restraint, public safety and infrastructure. He led the successful effort to enact the largest streets improvement package in the city’s history, authored the first city sales tax cut in Tulsa history, crafted budget amendments putting Tulsa Police Department helicopters back into service and doubling the number of Police academies, authored legislation creating the first municipal rainy day fund in Oklahoma and coordinated efforts to establish the first municipal veterans’ treatment court in the United States.
Bynum and his wife, Susan, are the proud parents of Robert and Annabel — the sixth generation of Bynums to call Tulsa home. He previously worked as the managing partner of Capitol Ventures, and before that in the United States Senate for Senators Don Nickles and Tom Coburn. He has also worked on the senior management team of a national real estate firm and for the American Red Cross.
Bynum has served on the boards of directors for Leadership Oklahoma, Leadership Tulsa and the Tulsa Historical Society. He also served on the Board of Regents for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and is currently a member of the Augustinian Advancement Advisory Council.
In 2011, he was selected as an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow, a program which seeks to bring together 24 of the nation’s most promising young elected leaders on a bipartisan basis, explore the responsibilities of public leadership and assist them in achieving their fullest potential in public service. In 2014, he was selected as the only city councilor in the nation to participate in the Moneyball For Government Fellowship Program, which aims to assist local governments in achieving better results with limited budgets by increasing the use of data, evidence and evaluation when spending taxpayer money.
Mayor Bynum attended Eliot Elementary in the Tulsa Public Schools system. He is a proud graduate of two institutions operated by the Augustinian Order of the Catholic Church: Cascia Hall Preparatory School and Villanova University, where he served as Student Body president. Mayor Bynum is a graduate of Leadership Oklahoma and Leadership Tulsa. He is a member of Christ the King Parish and earned his Eagle Scout designation in high school as a member of Troop 73.