Denzel Washington : Commencement Speech : Fall Forward.

The script:

please join me in welcoming Denzel
thank you thank you very much
I am obviously the most unorganized
everybody else has nice boxes to bring
their script up in I just like kind of
got all my stuff here put it inside of a
magazine so so in fact I don’t even have
it in the right order wait a minute let
me get in the right order here so if it
starts like flying around the stage just
you know run around and grab it for me
and bring it back up here for me I’ll
keep going as I can
president Gutmann Provost price Board
Chair Cohen fellow honorees beautiful
honorees and today’s graduates I’m
honored and grateful for the invitation
today it’s always been great to be on
the Penn campus I’ve been here before a
lot of times for basketball games my son
played at the Palestra played on the
basketball team I yeah that’s right
played on the basketball team coach
didn’t give me enough playing time we’ll
talk about that later
no I’m really I’m really pleased with
the progress that coach Allen has made
and no I do I am I really am and I hope
I’m the best success in the future and
you know I always get a warm welcome
when I come to Pennsylvania when I come
to Philadelphia except on the few
occasions where I wear my Yankee cap
I can’t suddenly just switch up and wear
a Philly cap I mean and I mean it’s like
taking your life in your hands around
here when you were a Yankee cap I’m
telling you I met a couple of guys and
they were like hey we love you Denzel
but you know you’re walking around with
that hat on we don’t care who you are so
you be happy to see that I’m not wearing
my Yankee cap today I’m wearing my
Yankee socks my Yankee t-shirt my ninja
jock shorts and yaki underwear my Yankee
toe warmers but it’s not my Yankee cap
but still I’ll be honest with you I’m
I’m a little nervous I’m not used to
speaking at a graduation of this
magnitude it’s a little overwhelming
it’s out of my comfort zone
now you dressed me up in army fatigues
or throwing me on top of a moving train
someone said unstoppable or asked me to
play Malcolm X Rubin hurricane Carter or
Alonzo from training day I can do that
but a commencement speech it’s it’s very
serious affair and it’s a very different
there are literally thousands and
thousands of people here and for those
who say well you’re a movie star means
that people watch you and watch you
speak all the time well that’s to that
that’s Trek technically true but I’m not
actually in the theater watching them
watching me
I think that makes sense I mean I’m not
there when they call for a fidget around
or pull out their iPhones or text their
boyfriend or scratch their behinds or
whatever it is they’re doing in the
movie theater but from up here
I can see every single one of you and
that makes me uncomfortable so please
don’t pull out your iPhone’s and your
text don’t text your boyfriend until
after I’m done please if you have to
scratch it behind I mean I understand
it’s go ahead I was thinking about this
speech what I should say I figured the
best way to keep your attention would be
to talk about something you know really
like juicy Hollywood stuff like I
thought I could talk about me and
Russell Crowe getting in arguments on a
set of American Gangster or but I said
now now you’re a group of high-minded
intellectuals you’re not interested in
yeah oh maybe not I thought about a
private moment I had backstage with
Angelina Jolie in a dressing room after
the Oscars but I said no I don’t think
so this is an Ivy League school and I
mean Angelina Jolie half-naked in a
dressing room who wants to hear about
that no one no one no one no one this is
Penn that stuff would never go over well
over here maybe a Drexel but not over
I’m in trouble now so I was back to
square one
feeling the pressure so now you’re
probably thinking if it was going to be
this difficult this is what’s pressure
why did I even accept today’s invitation
in the first place well you know my son
goes here that’s number one that’s a
good reason and I always like to check
to see how my money’s being spent and
I’m sure there’s some parents out there
who can relate to what I’m talking about
yeah mmm everybody upstairs and there
were some other good reasons for me to
show up sure I got an Academy Award but
I never had something called a magic
after waiting in line for half an hour
at the pool truck yeah yes I talked face
to face with President Obama but I never
talked face to face with a guy named
tweeter who sings bad songs over it
smokes on Tuesday night I never been to
Buies I never been the demos yes
I have played a detective who battles
demons but I’ve never been to a school
in my life
where the squirrel population has gone
bananas I mean they’re breaking in the
dorm rooms they’re walking around campus
I think I saw some carrying books on
their way to class so I had to be here I
had to come even though I was afraid I
might make a fool of myself in fact if
you really want to know the truth
I had to come exactly because I had to
come exactly because I might make a fool
of myself you know what am I talking
about here it is
I found that nothing in life is
worthwhile unless you take risks nothing
Nelson Mandela said there is no passion
to be found playing small and settling
for a life that’s less than the one
you’re capable of living
now I’m sure in your experiences in
school and applying to college and
picking your major and deciding what you
want to do with life I’m sure people
that told you to make sure you have
something to fall back on make sure you
got something to fall back on honey but
I never understood that concept having
something to fall back on if I’m going
to fall I don’t want to fall back on
anything except my faith I want to fall
forward I figure at least this way I’ll
see what I’m going to hit fall forward
this is what I mean
Reggie Jackson struck out 26 hundred
times in his career the most in the
history of baseball but you don’t hear
about the strikeouts people remember the
homeruns fall forward Thomas Edison
conducted 1,000 failed experiments did
you know that I didn’t know that because
the 1,000 and first was the light bulb
fall forward every failed experiment is
one step closer to success you’ve got to
take risks and I’m sure you’ve probably
heard that before but I want to talk to
you about why that’s important I got
three reasons and and you can pick up
your iPhone’s first you will fail at
some point in your life accept it you
will lose you will embarrass yourself
you will suck at something there’s no
doubt about it and I know that’s
probably not a traditional message for a
graduation ceremony but a I’m telling
you embrace it because it’s inevitable
and I should know in the acting business
you fail all the time early on in my
career I auditioned for a part in a
Broadway musical perfect role for me I
thought except for the fact that I can’t
so I’m in the wings I’m about to go on
stage but the guy in front of me he’s
singing like like like Pavarotti he’s
just going on and on and on and I’m just
shrinking I’m getting smaller and
smaller so they say oh thank you very
much thank you very much and you will
you’ll be hearing from us so I come out
with my little sheet music and it was it
was a just my imagination by the
temptations that’s what I came up with
so I hand it to the the the accompany us
and she looks at it and looks at me and
looks at it the director and was like
all right so I start you know though I’m
gonna sing I’m like and they’re not
saying anything so I’m thinking I’m
getting better I start getting into it
running this out thank you thank you
thank you thank you very much mr.
Washington thank you so I assumed I
didn’t get the job but the next part of
the audition he called me back
the next part in the audition is the
acting part of the audition so I’m like
hey okay maybe I can’t sing but I know I
can act so they pair me with this guy
and again I didn’t know about musical
theater and musical theater is big so
they could reach everyone all the way in
the back of the stadium it and I’m more
from a realistic naturalistic kind of
acting where you you know you actually
talk to the person next to you so I
don’t know what my line was my line was
will hand me the cut and his line was
well I will hand you the cup my dear the
cup would be there to be handed to you
as I say okay well should I give you the
cup back oh yes you should give it back
to me because you know that is my cup
and it should be given back to me I
didn’t get the job
but here’s the thing I didn’t quit I
didn’t fall back I walked out of there
to prepare for the next audition and the
next audition and the next audition I
prayed I prayed and I prayed but I
continued to fail and fail and fail but
it didn’t matter because you know what
there’s an old saying you hang around
the barbershop long enough sooner or
later you’re gonna get a haircut so you
will catch a break and I did catch a
break last year I did a play called
fences on Broadway someone talked about
it won the Tony Award and I didn’t have
to sing by the way but here’s the kicker
he was at the Court Theatre it was at
the same theatre that I failed that
first audition 30 years prior the point
is and I’ll pick up the pace the point
is every graduate here today has the
training and the talent to succeed but
do you have the guts to fail here’s my
second point about failure if you don’t
fail you’re not even trying
I’ll say it again if you don’t fail
you’re not even trying my wife told me
this great expression to get something
you never had you have to do something
you never did Les Brown’s a motivational
speaker you made an analogy about this
he says imagine you’re on your deathbed
and standing around your deathbed are
the ghosts representing your unfulfilled
potential the ghost of the ideas you
never acted on the ghosts of the talents
you didn’t use and they’re standing
around your bed angry disappointed and
upset they say we came to you because
you could have brought us to life they
and now we have to go to the grave
together so I ask you today how many
ghosts are going to be around your bed
when your time comes you go west you
you’ve invested a lot in your education
and people had invested in you and let
me tell you the world needs your talents
and does it ever I just got back from
Africa like two days ago so if I’m
rambling on it’s because I’m Jet Li I
just got back from South Africa’s
beautiful country but there are places
there with terrible Parvat poverty that
need help when Africa’s just the tip of
the iceberg the Middle East needs your
Japan needs your help Alabama needs your
help Tennessee needs your help
Louisiana needs your help Philadelphia
needs your help the world the world
needs a lot and we need it from you we
really do we need it from you young
people I mean I’m not speaking for the
rest of us up here but I know I’m
getting a little grayer we needed from
you the young people because remember
this so you got to get out there you got
to give it everything you got
whether it’s your time your your your
talent your prayers or your treasures
because remember this you will never see
a u-haul behind a hearse
I’ll say it again you will never see a
u-haul behind a hearse you can’t take it
with you
the Egyptians tried it and all they got
was robbed so the question is what are
you going to do with what you have I’m
not talking about how much you have some
of you are business majors some of you
are theologians nurses sociologists some
of you have money some of you have
patients some of you have kindness some
of you have loved some of you have the
gift of long-suffering whatever it is
whatever your gift is what are you going
to do with what you have all right now
here’s my last point about failure
sometimes it’s the best way to figure
out where you’re going your life will
never be a straight path I began at
Fordham University as a pre-med student
I took a course called the cardiac
morphus I still can’t see it cardiac
cardiac morphogenesis I couldn’t read it
I couldn’t say it I sure couldn’t pass
it so then I decided to go into pre-law
then journalism and with no academic
focus my grades took off in their own
yeah down I was a 1.8 GPA one semester
and the University very politely
suggested that it might be better to
take some time off I was twenty years
I was at my lowest point and then one
day and I remember the exact day March
27 1975 I was helping my mother in her
beauty shop my mother owned the beauty
shop up in my Vernon and there’s there
was this older woman who was considered
one of the elders in the town and I
didn’t know her personally but I was
looking in the mirror and every time I
looked at the mirror I could see her
behind me and she was staring at me she
just kept looking at me every time I
looked at it she kept giving me these
strange looks so she finally took the
dryer off her head and says to something
she said something I’ll never forget
first of all she said somebody give me a
piece of paper give me a piece of paper
she said young boy I have a prophecy a
spiritual prophecy she said you are
going to travel the world and speak to
millions of people now mind you I’m 20
years old I’m flunked out of school
in fact like a wiseass I’m thinking to
myself maybe she’s got something in that
crystal ball about me getting back at
the school next fall but maybe she was
onto something because later that summer
while working as a counselor to YMCA
camp in Connecticut we put on a talent
show for the campers and after the show
another counselor came up to me and
asked have you ever thought about acting
you’re good at that so when I got back
to Fordham that fall I got in and I
changed my major once again for the last
time and in the years that follow just
as that woman prophesized I have
traveled the world and I have spoken to
millions of people through my movies
millions who up till this day couldn’t
see me I up till this day I couldn’t see
while I was talking to them and they
couldn’t see me they could only see the
movie they couldn’t see the real me but
I see you today and I’m encouraged by
what I see and I’m strengthened by what
I see
and I love what I see
one more page now shut up let me
conclude with this one final point
actually the president kind of brought
it up has to do with the movie
she stole my material many years ago I
did this movie called Philadelphia we
filmed some of the scenes right here on
campus Philadelphia came out in 1993
most of you are probably still in
some of the professor’s too but that
cracked me up but it was a good movie
renting on it what do you call it
Netflix it’s a good movie
renting I get 23 cents every time you
rent it please parents rent rent rented
please tell your friends too it’s about
a man played by Tom Hanks who’s fired
from his law firm because he has AIDS he
wants to sue the firm but no one’s
willing to represent him until the
homophobic ambulance chaser lawyer
played by yours truly takes on the case
in a way if you watch the movie you’ll
see everything I’m talking about today
you’ll see what I mean about taking risk
or being willing to fail because taking
risk is not just about going for a job
it’s also about knowing what you know
and what you don’t know it’s about being
open to people and to ideas in the
course of the film the character I play
begins to take small steps small risks
he’s very very very slowly begins to
overcome his fears and I feel ultimately
his heart becomes flooded with love and
I can’t think of a better message as we
send you off today to not only take
risks but to be open to life to accept
new views and to be open to new opinions
to be willing to speak out of
commencement at one of the best country
best universities in the country even
though you’re scared stiff well it may
be frightening it will also be rewarding
because the chances you take the people
you meet the people you love the faith
that you have that’s what’s going to
define you so members of the class of
2011 this is your mission when you leave
the friendly confines of Philly never be
discouraged never hold back give
everything you’ve got and when you fall
throughout life and maybe even tonight
after a few many glasses of champagne
remember this
fall forward
congratulations I love you god bless you
I respect you

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Abdallah Alaili

I'm a serial entrepreneur (mostly tech) and micro-investor (tiny), this is a blog to learn from other entrepreneurs and spread the wisdom to many more. You can find me on: Instagram - Twitter - Linkedin - more about me