Graduates of Yale University, I apologize if you have endured this type of prologue before, but I want you to do something for me. Please, take a ood look around you. Look at the classmate on your left. Look at the classmate on your right. Now, consider this: five years from now, 10 years from now, even 30 years from now, odds are the person on your left is going to be a loser. The person on your right, meanwhile, will also be a loser. And you, in the middle? What can you expect? Loser. Loserhood. Loser Cum Laude.
"In fact, as I look out before me today, I dont see a thousand hopes for a bright tomorrow. I dont see a thousand future leaders in a thousand industries. I see a thousand losers.
"Youre upset. Thats understandable. After all, how can I, Lawrence Larry Ellison, college dropout, have the audacity to spout such heresy to the graduating class of one of the nations most prestigious institutions? Ill tell you why. Because I, Lawrence "Larry" Ellison, second richest man on the planet, am a college dropout, and you are not.
"Because Bill Gates, richest man on the planet -- for now, anyway -- is a college dropout, and you are not.
"Because Paul Allen, the third richest man on the planet, dropped out of college, and you did not.
"And for good measure, because Michael Dell, No. 9 on the list and moving up fast, is a college dropout, and you, yet again, are not.
"Hmm . . . youre very upset. Thats understandable. So let me stroke your egos for a moment by pointing out, quite sincerely, that your diplomas were not attained in vain. Most of you, I imagine, have spent four to five years here, and in many ways what youve learned and endured will serve you well in the years ahead. Youve established good work habits. Youve established a network of people that will help you down the road. And youve established what will be lifelong relationships with the word therapy. All that of is good. For in truth, you will need that network. You will need those strong work habits. You will need that therapy.
"You will need them because you didnt drop out, and so you will never be among the richest people in the world. Oh sure, you may, perhaps, work your way up to No. 10 or No. 11, like Steve Ballmer. But then, I dont have to tell you who he really works for, do I? And for the record, he dropped out of grad school. Bit of a late bloomer.
"Finally, I realize that many of you, and hopefully by now most of you, are wondering, Is there anything I can do? Is there any hope for me at all? Actually, no. Its too late. Youve absorbed too much, think you know too much. Youre not 19 anymore. You have a built-in cap, and Im not referring to the mortar boards on your heads.
"Hmm... youre really very upset. Thats understandable. So perhaps this would be a good time to bring up the silver lining. Not for you, Class of 00. You are a write-off, so Ill let you slink off to your pathetic $200,000-a-year jobs, where your checks will be signed by former classmates who dropped out two years ago.
"Instead, I want to give hope to any underclassmen here today. I say to you, and I cant stress this enough: leave. Pack your things and your ideas and dont come back. Drop out. Start up.
"For I can tell you that a cap and gown will keep you down just as surely as these security guards dragging me off this stage are keeping me down . . ."
(At this point The Oracle CEO was ushered off stage.)
Hello ,class of 20__.I’m so honored to be here today.
Dean Khurana,faculty, parents, and most especially graduating students, thank you so much for inviting me. The Senior Class Committee, it’s genuinely one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been asked to do. I have to admit primarily because I can’t deny it. As it was leaked in the WikiLeaks release of the Sony hack that when I was invited I replied and I directly quote my own email. “Wow! This is so nice! I’m gonna need some funny ghost writers.Any idea?”
This initial response now blessedly public was from the knowledge that at my class day we were lucky enough to have Will Ferrel as class day speaker. And that many of us were hung-over, or even freshly high, mainly wanted to laugh. So I have to admit that today, even 12 years after graduation, I’m still insecure about my own worthiness. I have to remind myself today you’re here for a reason.
Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. When you guys were, to my continued shock and horror, still in kindergarten.I feel like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company. And that every time I opened my mouth, I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress. So I start with an apology. This won’t be very funny. I’m not a comedian. And I didn’t get a ghost writer. But I’m here to tell you today, Harvard is giving you all diplomas tomorrow. You are here for a reason.
Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people’s expectations. Standards, or values. But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.
The other day I went to an amusement park with my soon-to-be 4-year-old son. And I watched him play arcade games. He was incredibly focused, throwing his ball at the target. Jewish mother that I am, I skipped 20 steps, and was already imagining him as a major league player, with what is his aim and his arm and his concentration. But then I realized what he want. He was playing to trade in his tickets for the crappy plastic toys. The prize was much more exciting than the game to get it. I of course wanted to urge him to take joy and the challenge of the game, the improvement upon practice, the satisfaction of doing something well, and even feeling the accomplishment when achieving the game’s goals. But all of these aspects were shade by the little 10 cent plastic men with sticky stretchy blue arms that adhere to the walls. That was the prize. In a child’s nature, we see many of our own innate tendencies. I saw myself in him and perhaps you do too.
Prizes serve as false idols everywhere. Prestige, wealth, fame, power. You’ll be exposed to many of these, if not all. Of course, part of why I was invited to come to speak today, beyond my being a proud alumna, is that I’ve recruited some very coveted toys in my life, including a not so plastic, not so crappy one, an Oscar. So we bump up against the common troll I think of the commencement address people who have achieved a lot telling you that the fruits of the achievement are not always to be trusted. But I think that contradiction can be reconciled and is in fact instructive.Achievement is wonderful when you know why you’re doing it. And when you don’t know, it can be a terrible trap.
I went to a public high school on Long Island, Syosset High School. Ooh, hello, Syosset! The girls I went to school with had Prada bags and flat-ironed hair.And they spoke with an accent, I who had moved there at age 9 from Connecticut mimicked to fit in. Florida, Oranges, Chocolate, Cherries. Since I’m ancient and the Internet was just starting when I was in high school. People didn’t really pay that much of attention to the fact that I was an actress. I was known mainly at school for having a back pack bigger than I was, and always having white-out on my hands.Because I hated seeing anything crossed out in my note looks. I was voted for my senior yearbook I most likely to be an contestant on Jeopardy, or code for nerdiest.
When I got to Harvard just after the release of Star Wars: Episode 1. I knew I would be starting over in terms of how people viewed me. I feared people would have assumed I’d gotten in just for being famous, and that they would think that I was not worthy of the intellectual rigor here. And it would not have been far from the truth. When I came here I had never written a 10-page paper before. I’m not even sure I’ve written a 5-page paper. I was alarmed and intimidated by the calm eyes of a fellow student, who came here from Dalton or Exeter who thought that compared to high school the workload here was easy. I was completely overwhelmed, and thought that reading 1000 pages a week was unimaginable, that writing a 50-page thesis is just something I could never do. I had no idea how to declare my intentions. Icouldn’t even articulate them to myself.
I’ve been acting since I was 11. But I thought acting was too frivolous and certainly not meaningful. I came from a family of academics, and was very concerned of being taken seriously. In contrast to my inability to declare myself, on my first day of orientation freshman year, five separate students introduced themselves to me, by saying, I’m going to be president. Remember I told you that. Their names, for the record, were Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Barack Obama, and Hilary Clinton. In all seriousness, I believed every one of them, their bearing and self-confidence alone seemed proof of their prophecy where I couldn’t shake my self-doubt. I got in only because I was famous. This was how others saw me and it was how I saw myself. Driven by these insecurities, I decided I was going to find something to do in Harvard that was serious and meaningful that would change the world and make it a better place.
At the age of 18,I’d already been acting for 7 years, and assumed I find a more serious and profound path in college. So freshman fall I decided to take neurobiology, and advanced modern Hebrew literature, because I was serious and intellectual. Needless to say, I should have failed both. I got Bs,for you information, and to this day, every Sunday I burn a small effigy to the pagan Gods of grade inflation.
But as I was fighting my way through Aleph Bet Yod Y’d shua in Hebrew, and the different mechanisms of neuro-response, I saw friends around me writing papers on sailing, and pop culture magazines, and professors teaching classes on fairly tales and The Matrix. I realized that seriousness for seriousness’s sake was its own kind of trophy, and a dubious one, a pose I sought to counter some half-imagined argument about who I was. There was a reason that I was an actor. I love what I do. And I saw from my peers and my mentors that it was not only an acceptable reason, it was the best reason.
When I got to my graduation, sitting where you sit today after 4 years of trying to get excited about something else. I admitted to myself that I couldn’t wait to go back and make more films. I wanted to tell stories, to imagine the lives of others. I have found or perhaps reclaimed my reason. You have prize now, or at least you will tomorrow. The prize is a Harvard degree in your hand. But what is your reason behind it?
My Harvard degree represents for me, the curiosity and invention that were encouraged here, the friendships I’ve sustained, the way Professor Graham told me not to describe the way light hit a flower, but rather the shadow the flower cast, the way Professor Scarry talked about theatre is a transformative religious force, how Professor Coslin showed how much our visual cortex is activated just by imagining. Now granted these things don’t necessarity help me answer the most common question I’m asked: What designer are you wearing? What’s your fitness regime? Any make up tips? But I have never since been embarrassed to myself as what I might previously have thought was stupid question. My Harvard degree and other awards are emblems of the experiences which led me to them. The wood paneled lecture halls, the colorful fall leaves, the hot vanilla Toscaninis, reading great novels in overstuffed library chairs, running through dining halls screaming: Ooh! Ah! City steps!City steps!City steps!City steps!
It’s easy now to romanticize my time here. But I had some very difficult times here to. Some combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth control pills that have since been taken off the market for their depressive side effects, and spending too much time missing day light during winter months, led me to some pretty dark moments. Particularly during sophomore year, there were several occasions where I started crying in meetings with professors. Overwhelmed with what I was supposed to pull off. When I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning.Moment when I took on the motto for my school work. Done. Not good.If only I could finish my work, even if it took eating a jumbo pack of sour Patch Kids to get me through a single 10-page paper. I felt that I’ve accomplished a great feat. I repeat to myself. Done.Not good.
A couple of years ago, I went to Tokyo with my husband, and I ate at the most remarkable sushi restaurant. I don’t even eat fish. I’m vegan. So that tells you how good it was. Even with just vegetables, this sushi was the stuff you dreamed about. The restaurant has six seats. My husband and I marveled at how anyone can make rice so superior to all other rice. We wondered why they didn’t make a bigger restaurant and be the most popular place in town. Our local friends explains to us that all the best restaurants in Tokyo are that small, and do only one type of dish: sushi or tempura or teriyaki. Because they want to do that thing well and beautifully. And it’s not about quantity. It’s about taking pleasure in the perfection and beauty of the particular.
I’m still learning now that it’s about good and maybe never done. And the joy and work ethic and virtuosity we bring to the particular can impart a singular type of enjoyment to those we give to, and of course,to ourselves.
In my professional life, it also took me time to find my own reasons for doing my work. The first film I was in came out in 1994. Again, appallingly, the year most of you were born. I was 13 years old upon the film’s release and I came still quote what the New York Time said about me verbatim.Ms Portman poses better than she acts. The film had a universally tepid eristic response and went on to bomb commercially. That film was called The Professional, or Leon in Europe. And today, 20 years and 35 films later, it is still the film people approach me about the most to tell me how much they loved it, how much it moved them, how it’s their favourite movie. I feel lucky that my first experience of releasing a film was initially such a disaster by all standards and measures. I learned early that my meaning had to be from the experience of making the film and the possibility of connecting with individuals rather than the foremost trophies in my industry: financial and critical success. And also these initial reactions could be false predictors of your works ultimate legacy.
I started choosing only jobs that I’m passionate about and from which I knew I could glean meaningful experiences. This thoroughly confused everyone around me: agents, producers, and audiences alike. I made Goya’s Ghost, a foreign independent film and studied act history visiting the produce everyday for 4 months as I read about Goya and the Spanish Inquisition. I made V for Vendetta, studio action movie for which I learned everything I could about freedom fighters, whom otherwise may be called terrorists from Menachem Begin to Weather Underground. I made Your Highness, a pothead comedy with Danny McBride and laugh for 3 months straight. I was able to own my meaning and not have it be determined by box office receipts or prestige.
By the time I got to making Black Swan, the experience was entirely my own. I felt immune to the worst things anyone could say or write about me, and to whether the audience felt like to see my movie or not. It was instructive for me to see for ballet dancers once your technique gets to a certain level, the only thing that separates you from others is your quirks or even flaws. One ballerina was famous for how she turned slightly off balanced. You can never be the best, technically. Some with always have a higher jump or a more beautiful line. The only thing you can be the best at is developing your own self. Authoring your own experience was very much what Black Swan itself was about. I worked with Darren Aronofsky the director who changed my last line in the movie to It was perfect. Because my character Nina is only artistically successful when she finds perfection and pleasure for herself, not when she was trying to be perfect in the eyes of others. So when Black Swan was successful financially and I began receiving accolades I felt honored and grateful to have connected with people. But the true core of my meaning I had already established. And I needed it to be independent of people’s reactions to me.
People told me that Black Swan was an artistic risk. A scary challenge to try to portray a professional ballet dancer. But it didn’t feel like courage or daring that drove me do it. I was so oblivious to my own limits that I did things I was woefully unprepared to do. And so the very inexperience that in college had made me insecure, made me want to play by others’ rules. Now is making me actually take risks, I didn’t even realize were risks. When Darren asked me if I could ballet, I told him I was basically a ballerina which by the way I wholeheartedly believed. When it quickly became clear that preparing for the film that I was 15 years away from being a ballerina. It made me work a million times harder and of course the magic of cinema and body doubles helped the final effect. But the point is, if I had known my own limitations, I never would have taken the risk. And the risk led to one of my greatest artistic personal experiences. And that I not only felt completely free. I also met my husband during the filming.
Similarly, I just directed my first film, A Tale of Love in Darkness. I was quite blind to the challenges ahead of me. The film is a period film, completely in Hebrew in which I also act with an eight-year-old child as a costar. All of these are challenges I should have been terrified of, as I was completely unprepared for them, but my complete ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director’s chair. Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so was only half the battle. The other half was very hard work. The experience was the deepest and most meaningful one of my career. Now clearly I’m not urging you to go and perform heart surgery without the knowledge to do so! Making movies admittedly has less drastic consequences than most professions and allows for a lot of effects that make up for mistakes.
The thing I’m saying is, make use of the fact that you don’t doubt yourself too much right now. As we get order,we get more realistic, and that includes about our own abilities or lack thereof. And that realism does us no favors. People always talk about diving into things you’re afraid of. That never worked for me. If I’m afraid, I run away. And I would probably urge my child to do the same. Fear protects us in many ways. What has served me in diving into my own obliviousness. Being more confident than I should be which everyone tends to decry American kids and those of us who have been grade inflated and ego inflated. Well, it can be a good thing if it makes you try things you never might have tried. Your inexperience is an asset, and will allow you to think in original and unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset.
I know a famous violinist who told me that he can’t compose because he knows too many pieces. So when he starts thinking of the note, an existing piece immediately comes to mind. Just starting out one of your biggest strengths is not knowing how things are supposed to be. You can compose freely because your mind isn’t cluttered with too many pieces. And you don’t take for granted the way how things are. The only way you know how to do things is your own way. You have will all go on to achieve great things. There is no doubt almost that. Each time you set out to do something new, your inexperience can either lead you down a path where you will conform to someone else’s values, even though you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing. If your reasons are you own, your path, even if it’s a strange and clumsy path, will be wholly yours. And you will control the rewards of that you do by making your internal life fulfilling.
At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, the most fulfilling things I’ve experienced have truly been the human interactions: spending time with women in village banks in Mexico with FINCA microfinance organization, meeting young women who were the first and the only in their communities to attend secondary schools in rural Kenya with Free the Children group that built sustainable schools in developing countries tracking with gorilla conservationists in Rwanda. It’s a cliche, because it’s true, that helping others ends up helping your more than anyone. Getting out of your own concerns and caring about some else’s life for a while, reminds you that you are not the center of the universe. And that in the ways we’re generous or not, we can change the course of someone’s life. Even at work, the small feat of kindness crew member, directors, fellow actors have shown me have had the most lasting impact.
And of course, first and foremost, the center of my world is the love that I share my family and friends. I wish for you that your friends will be with you through it all as my friends from Harvard have been together since we graduated. My friends from school are still very close. We have nursed each other through heartaches and danced at each others’ weddings. We’ve held each other at funerals and rocked each other’s new babies. We worked together on projects helped each other get jobs and thrown parties for when we’ve quit bad ones. And now our children are creating a second generation of friendship as we look at them toddling together. Haggard and disheveled working parents that we are.Grab the good people around you and don’t let them go. The biggest asset this school offers you is a group of peers that will both be your family and your school for life.
I remember always being pissed at the spring here in Cambridge.Tricking us into remembering a sunny yard full of laughing frisbee throwers. After 8 months of dark freezing library dwelling. It was like the school has managed to turn on the good weather as a last memory we should keep in mind that would make us want to come back. But as I get farther away from my years here I know that the power of this school is much deeper than weather control. It changed the very question that I was asking to quote one of my favourite thinkers Abraham Joshua Heschel: To be or not to be is not the question, the vital question is how to be and how not to be.
Thank you. I can’t wait to see how you do all the beautiful things you will do.
Dear professors and dear friends of China Jiliang University,
I’m honored to address you on behalf of all the graduations this year.
I would like to thank my parents, classmates, and friends who helped us ,and encouraged and supported us as we worked towards to our graduate degrees.
I also want to thank Jiliang’s faculty members who served as our instructors，mentor, and friends, relatives, like Prof.Yu, Prof.Gao, Mrs. Liang. Through their commitments, they have inspired us to achieve and guided us to our dream.
On this stage, at my graduation ceremony, when I look back my four years at Jiliang, my mind is filled with memories. May be you will ask me: do you have special to share? Yes, I want to share few simple but critical suggestions with you and with for the coming juniors:
First, be work hard and think smart.
Secondly, believe things happened for a reason.
Thirdly, just as Jobs said at the graduation ceremony in Stanford University, stay hungry, stay foolish.
Today, we will graduate from China Jiliang University, but we will be with Jiliang forever. Let us think forward and work together to make the new history of China Jiliang University.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.
I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.
But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 20__, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.
So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
You must believe in yourself and in your work. When our first Batman movie broke all those box-office records, I received a phone call from that United Artists exec who, years before, had told me I was out of my mind. Now he said, “Michael, Im just calling to congratulate you on the success of Batman. I always said you were a visionary.” You see the point here — dont believe them when they tell you how bad you are or how terrible your ideas are, but also, dont believe them when they tell you how wonderful you are and how great your ideas are. Just believe in yourself and youll do just fine. And, oh yes, dont then forget to market yourself and your ideas. Use both sides of your brain.
You must have a high threshold for frustration. Take it from the guy who was turned down by every studio in Hollywood. You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. Its the only way to achieve your goals in life.