David LaChapelle Returns to the UNC-School of the Arts

The one-time student tells 2015's high school graduating class: "This school changed my life.”

According to Winston-Salem Journal writer Jennifer Drabble, famed photographer and music video director David LaChapelle was noticably nervous this past Saturday while giving a speech to the high school graduating class of the UNC-School of the Arts students. He was once, briefly, a student there too.

But those jitters mattered not to the 121 graduates in the audience, who were wowed by the caliber of LaChapelle’s professional accomplishments and the details of his teenage years. From the article:

When he applied to the School of the Arts as a 16-year-old, LaChapelle was a “straight F-student” who had dropped out of high school in Connecticut after enduring two years of non-stop bullying. Armed only with his less than impressive report card and his portfolio of artwork, he said a prayer and hoped for the best.

“The dean looked at me and said, ‘You flunked tennis?’ then he smiled and I knew I was in,” said LaChapelle, 52. “I don’t look back on high school with nostalgia because I knew at the time how lucky I was to be there. I was lost and this school accepted me.”

LaChapelle had originally applied in hopes of fulfilling his dream of becoming a painter, but instead fell in love with photography. Although he didn’t graduate from the school his senior year — he fell a few credits short – he still uses the lessons he learned there every day, he said.

After moving back to New York in 1981 at age 18, LaChapelle eventually found an early supporter: Andy Warhol. After a brief, more recent break as a farmer in Maui, LaChapelle is back in the visual arts game. Read the rest of Drabble’s report here.