Actor gives advice to graduates, makes news

Published 12:02 am Saturday, May 23, 2015

Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington recently made headlines for the religious statements in his commencement address to the graduates of Dillard University in New Orleans.

Washington shared four life goals with the 218 graduating seniors as well as the audience. “Number one, put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me and everything you think I’ve accomplished…everything I have is by the grace of God, understand that. It’s a gift.

He told them that God had kept him centered throughout his life. “I’ve been protected, I’ve been directed, I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life and it’s kept me humble,” he said. “I didn’t always stick with him, but he’s always stuck with me. Stick with him in everything you do,” he recalled.

“Fail big” was his second point. “Do what you feel passionately about…Don’t be afraid to fail big, to dream big. But remember, dreams without goals are just dreams…to achieve goals you must apply discipline and consistency.”

Washington illustrated his third point. “You will never see a U-haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you…It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with it.” He emphasized giving back to one’s community and helping others. “That’s where the joy is, that’s where the success is.”

Before his final point, Washington said, “I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed tonight, so that when you wake up in the morning you have to get on your knees to reach them,” Washington said. “And while you’re down there, say, ‘thank you. Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents, thank you for love, thank you for kindness, thank you for humility, thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity.”

He concluded with, “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.” Denzel Washington’s message gave me an idea to research others’ advice to graduates during commencement speeches. Here are a few of them.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “I believe that the human being, any human being of any community, any origin, any color, a human being is eternal.” Then he reminded them they were going into a world with “so much violence, often so much despair…tell them that the nobility of the human being cannot be denied to anyone.”

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch remarked, “There is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘commencement exercises.’ Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.”

“When you leave here, don’t forget why you came,” Adlai Stevenson, a diplomat and politician, once told college graduates.

Suppose the wisest man who ever lived were to give a commencement speech today, Solomon would remind graduates of Proverbs 3:5 -6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”

The prophet Jeremiah might tell graduates that God has a plan for every life, “to give you a future and a hope” (29:11).

Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at