A $5 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation, announced Oct. 22 by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, will provide tuition assistance to even more students at the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.
The gift was announced on the eve of what would have been the late entertainment icon Johnny Carson’s 96th birthday. It augments the Johnny Carson Foundation Opportunity Scholarship Fund, created in 2010 at the University of Nebraska Foundation with a $1 million gift in honor of Carson, a Nebraska alumnus who died in 2005.
The permanently endowed fund enables the university to award annual scholarships to students enrolled in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts. The university may award both need-based and merit-based scholarships from the fund.
With the increased funding, the scholarship fund is expected to provide scholarships to 50 to 60 students annually, totaling about $300,000 in aid. The scholarship currently helps 15 to 25 students annually, totaling about $100,000.
“The Johnny Carson Foundation, just like Johnny once did, understands how student support and endowments can transform the educational experience of our students and, by doing so, lead our graduates toward powerful, meaningful working lives,” said Charles O’Connor, dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. “I appreciate their belief in what we are trying to do here at Nebraska, as well as my friendship with them over many years.”
Christina Kirk, director of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and executive director of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre, said the university is grateful for this generosity that provides additional tuition support.
“We have been awarding these scholarships for several years, and they have helped us recruit many of the most talented students from right here in Nebraska,” Kirk said. “I am so grateful for this gift, which will allow us to award even more scholarships in the years to come and to extend these opportunities to students from around the country.
“We proudly carry the name of Johnny Carson on our school and on these scholarships. His legacy continues to inspire the next generation of artists.”
Megan Elliott, founding director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, said the center’s goal is to “find the wizards, pirates and magicians that will be the next creative leaders.”
“The Johnny Carson Foundation Opportunity Scholarships are a critical part of attracting the most talented students to the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts from Nebraska and around the world,” Elliott said. “These scholarships help make the outstanding education our students receive affordable, and with this generous gift we will be able to recruit even more students every year. My deepest thanks to the Johnny Carson Foundation for this extraordinary gift and their ongoing support for our students.”
Allan Alexander, president and a director of the Johnny Carson Foundation, said: “Johnny Carson is quoted as saying, ‘Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready.’ The foundation Johnny created is committed to ensuring that even more future generations of students are ready for success because of an education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the support of the Johnny Carson Foundation Opportunity Scholarship.”
Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, on Oct. 23, 1925, and grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. He served as an ensign in the Navy in World War II before enrolling at the University of Nebraska in 1947. He received a Bachelor of Arts in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.
Carson hosted “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1962 to 1992. He earned six Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.
In 2004, Carson donated $5.3 million to support theatre and film programs in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. The funding also enabled the renovation and expansion of the Temple Building, at 12th and R streets, home to the theatre program and where Carson studied.
Following Carson’s death, the university received an additional $5 million gift from Carson’s estate for endowed support of programs in theatre, film and broadcasting. In recognition of his generosity, the university renamed its Department of Theatre Arts the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
Renovation of the Johnny Carson Theater at the Lied Center for Performing Arts was made possible with a gift of $571,500 from the Johnny Carson Foundation announced in 2013.
Plans for the premier Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts were announced by the university in 2015, following a $20 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation. Forty-two students were accepted into the program this year, representing the largest cohort for the center since it opened in 2019. The program currently has 98 emerging media arts majors.