Family Guy founder encourages students to “take a leap of faith”

Mike Henry, ’88, shared his unconventional career path with students


Mike Henry addresses the audience in Stackhouse Theater. Photo by Samantha Weed.

Samantha Weed

Mike Henry, Washington and Lee alum and Family Guy founder, kicked off parents’ weekend with a speech on following his “inner voice” to the career of his dreams.

Between jokes, Henry reflected on his time at Washington and Lee. He graduated in 1988, the last all-male class – or as he called it, “the last class with balls… truly the last gasp of the Animal House era.”

Throughout the speech, Henry called out members of the audience he had been classmates with.

President of his class from sophomore to senior year, Henry graduated with a history degree, which he said was an easy class load.

He said that even though he landed what he thought was his dream job following graduation, he realized it was not what he wanted to do for life.

“I absolutely hated my job,” Henry said. “I was just not being true to myself… so, I gave my six weeks’ notice.”

“You gotta take a leap of faith,” he told the eager audience of students.

Henry also talked about the difficulties he faced after moving to California.

“I found myself one of literally probably a million people trying to do the same thing,” Henry said. “I’m 25, 26, 27, years are going by, and I’m doing standup at coffee shops and no one is coming to see me.”

Faced with rejection, “I just yelled at God,” he said. “It was wearing on me.”

But Henry discouraged students from giving up on their goals.

“Anything that’s worth doing does not come easy at all,” he said.

Henry said an opportunity came when Seth MacFarlane gave him a call. MacFarlane was a roommate of Henry’s brother at the Rhode Island School of Design, and had kept in touch.

Henry said MacFarlane had received “a modest budget to animate 10 minutes of what would be Family Guy.”

“He brought me and one other guy in as sort of wildcards,” Henry said. “You would’ve thought we were the Beatles.”

It took Henry eight years to find the right career.

“Do what feels right and work hard,” he advised. “Don’t line yourself up to do something you don’t really care about.”

Henry said it is important to be happy to be successful. He implored students to think about the path they are on.

“Do people hate their life that much that they gotta get to the weekend?” Henry said.

He encouraged students to reflect on what they want to do with their careers.

“You already know what you should do,” Henry said. “Be open to what your gut is telling you. Do something! Do what you wanna do! Make a difference.”