Speech by Denzel Washington at University of Pennsylvania : Transcription
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 in 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 have 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.
Reggie Jackson struck out 2600 times in his career, the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strike outs. People remember the home runs.
Thomas Edison conducted 1000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t know that.
Because the 1000 and 1st was the light bulb.
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 so important.
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 hey, I’m telling you, embrace it.
Because it’s inevitable.
In the acting business, you failed 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 Sing.
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 and I prayed.
But I continue to fail and fail, and fail.
But it didn’t matter because you know what is an old saying.
You hang around the barbershop long enough.
Sooner or later, you’re going.
To 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
But here’s the kicker.
It was at the court theater.
It was at the Same theater that I failed that first audition 30 years prior.
The point is, every graduate here today has the training and the talent to succeed.
But do you have the guts to fail?
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.
To get something you never had, you have.
To do something you never did.
So 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 ghost 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 say.
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.
I just got back from South Africa.
Beautiful country but there are places there with terrible part of poverty that need help.
When Africa is just the tip of the iceberg, the Middle East needs your help.
Japan needs your help.
Alabama needs your help.
Tennessee needs your help.
Louisiana needs your help.
Philadelphia needs your help.
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 need it from you, the young people ’cause remember this?
So you gotta get out there.
You gotta give it everything you got.
Whether it’s your time.
Your talent, your prayers, or your treasures.
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 patience.
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 premed student.
I took a course called that 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 prelaw, then journalism and with no academic focus my grades took off in their own direction.
I was a 1.8 GPA.
And the university very politely suggested that it might be better to take some time off.
I was 20 years old. I was at my lowest point
And then one day and I remember the exact day, March 27th, 1975.
I was helping my mother.
In her beauty shop, my mother on the.
Beauty shop up In Mount 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 I was looking in the mirror and every time I looked through the mirror I could see her behind me, and she was staring at me.
She just kept looking at every time I looked at It she kept giving me these strange looks
So she finally took the dryer off her head and said something
She said something I will never forget.
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.
And in the years that followed, 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 or who 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.
It 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.
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.
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.
Never be discouraged.
Never hold back.
Give everything you got.
And when you fall throughout life, remember this.