A Mentor’s Impact

by | Sep 24, 2019 | Culture, Features

In art class, he was known as a football jock. On the field, he was known as an artist. Today, Shawn Sullivan ’91 is a high school animation teacher and mentor to world-renowned performance artist David Garibaldi.

Sullivan has built an advanced animation program at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove, where he has taught since 1998. Sullivan’s program prepares students for careers in the arts, media and entertainment industry. Many of his students have launched into successful careers. Former students include Pixar animator and story artist Austin Madison and Nickelodeon color supervisor Hallie Lal.

“When I see my students have these dreams and reach their goals, I feel as proud as if they’re my own children,” Sullivan said.

When Garibaldi’s talent became known around the high school, Sullivan recruited him into his art class and became his mentor. Sullivan helped Garibaldi develop his skills and showed him a possible career path.

David Garibaldi

Photo via Garibaldiarts.com

For his part, Garibaldi credits Sullivan for helping him see possibilities — and that he could combine animation, storytelling and performance arts. Garibaldi has been featured on America’s Got Talent, performed with artists like Flo Rida and toured with the rock band Kiss throughout Europe, raising more than $5 million for charity.

“When I think about the time that I spent with Shawn, he’s always been consistent in his character,” Garibaldi said. “Even though I’m 36 years old right now, he is still a mentor and a teacher to me. When I was doing America’s Got Talent, I remember calling him and asking for advice — he helped me think differently about where I am in life and I continue to work with him as peers.”

Today, the mentor and former student are professional collaborators. Garibaldi and Sullivan created a nonprofit called Creator X two years ago to connect even more students with professional animators, artists, actors, dancers and musicians. Creator X hosts an annual summer camp that offers three days of action-packed art education.

“Creator X was inspired by wanting to multiply creators through education inspiration outside the classroom,” Garibaldi said. “If I didn’t have Shawn’s mentorship, I’d probably either still be doing graffiti or in jail because of it. He helped me see possibilities everywhere and gave me the opportunity to learn new skills without changing who I am.”

Shawn Sullivan (left) and David Garibaldi

Karin Higgins/UC Davis

Sullivan’s program has won four National Television Academy Awards of Excellence, and in 2016, the Walt Disney Family Foundation named his program the best high school animation program in the world.

“I had this crazy idea of bringing teaching and animation together at the high school level, which never existed before,” Sullivan said. “So being a young teacher, I wrote a class and had an amazing administration to support me.”

Sullivan’s philosophy of giving back trickles down to alumni who come back to donate equipment, software, materials and offer current students advice and connections.

“It’s my responsibility; if someone is taking the time to nurture me and give me information, it’s wrong of me to not do that for somebody else,” Sullivan said. “My students are hungry and they’re giving me the time, so I have to give them everything I’ve got.”