Steven Spielberg delivered a powerful and inspiring commencement speech at Harvard University rich with metaphors from the movies. You can watch the address in its entirety and find out what the film legend had to say to the graduating class.
The Oscar-winning director and producer of countless iconic movies that have found their way into our collective memories and pop culture had much to say in a speech that’s full of quotable quotes. From the likes of ‘E.T’ to ‘The Color Purple,’ Steven Spielberg mined his own life story and his evolution to inspire the graduates.
And, not surprisingly, he frequently used the language of storytelling and filmography. It was a commencement speech as iconic as the man himself. While it’s true that he did, in his summary words, tell the graduates “I wish you all a true, Hollywood-style happy ending” — that single line, in being quoted endlessly and used as a headline, does a disservice in characterizing the speech. It was much more profound than Hollywood happy endings.
In noting that he himself had dropped out of college to pursue his dream — in retrospect, obviously the right decision to say the very least — he also spoke of why he returned to school in his fifties and got his degree from Cal State long after having become one of the most successful filmmakers in history. He said of that humble return, “I’m the father of seven, and I kept insisting on the importance of going to college, but I hadn’t walked the walk.”
He spoke of how when he was just 12 years old, his father gave him a movie camera. And obviously, as we say, the rest is history. Or as Spielberg put it, it was “the tool that allowed me to make sense of this world.”
Reflecting upon those movies that first brought him mainstream success, he said, “And up until the 1980s, my movies were mostly, I guess what you could call ‘escapist.’” This was because, in his words, ” was in a celluloid bubble, because I’d cut my education short, my worldview was limited to what I could dream up in my head, not what the world could teach me.”
The life changing movie for him was ‘The Color Purple’ which he directed in 1985, from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker. He said it “opened my eyes to experiences that I never could have imagined, and yet were all too real.”
Continuing, he added, “This story was filled with deep pain and deeper truths, like when Shug Avery says, ‘Everything wants to be loved.’ My gut, which was my intuition, told me that more people needed to meet these characters and experience these truths. And while making that film, I realized that a movie could also be a mission.”
He then went on to tell the graduates, “I hope all of you find that sense of mission. Don’t turn away from what’s painful. Examine it. Challenge it.”
Continuing, he said, “My job is to create a world that lasts two hours. Your job is to create a world that lasts forever. You are the future innovators, motivators, leaders and caretakers.”
He also spoke of “the character defining moment” and said, “In a two-hour movie, you get a handful of character defining moments, but in real life, you face them every day; life is one long string of character defining moments.”
You can read the full transcript here, and watch in its entirety Steven Spielberg’s Harvard University commencement address video below!
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