‘We all have to tell our own stories’
Steven Allan Spielberg, born on December 18, 1946, is an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era, as well as being viewed as one of the most popular directors and producers in film history. He is also one of the co-founders of DreamWorks Studios. He delivered this Commencement address to Harvard\'s Class of 2016 on May 26, 2016.
Steven Allan Spielberg, born on December 18, 1946, is an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era, as well as being viewed as one of the most popular directors and producers in film history. He is also one of the co-founders of DreamWorks Studios. He delivered this Commencement address to Harvard's Class of 2016 on May 26, 2016.
Thank you, thank you, President Faust, and Paul Choi, thank you so much.
I can remember my own college graduation, which is easy, since it was only 14 years ago. How many of you took 37 years to graduate? Because, like most of you, I began college in my teens, but sophomore year, I was offered my dream job at Universal Studios, so I dropped out. I told my parents if my movie career didn't go well, I'd re-enroll.
It went all right.
But eventually, I returned for one big reason. Most people go to college for an education, and some go for their parents, but I went for my kids. I'm the father of seven, and I kept insisting on the importance of going to college, but I hadn't walked the walk. So, in my fifties, I re-enrolled at Cal State -- Long Beach, and I earned my degree.
I just have to add: It helped that they gave me course credit in paleontology for the work I did on Jurassic Park. That's three units for Jurassic Park, thank you.
Well I left college because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and some of you know, too -- but some of you don't. Or maybe you thought you knew but are now questioning that choice. Maybe you're sitting there trying to figure out how to tell your parents that you want to be a doctor and not a comedy writer.
Now 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 strong, long string of character-defining moments. And I was lucky that at 18 I knew what I exactly wanted to do. But I didn't know who I was. How could I? And how could any of us? Because for the first 25 years of our lives, we are trained to listen to voices that are not our own. Parents and professors fill our heads with wisdom and information, and then employers and mentors take their place and explain how this world really works.
And usually these voices of authority make sense, but sometimes, doubt starts to creep into our heads and into our hearts. And even when we think, 'that's not quite how I see the world,' it's kind of easier to just to nod in agreement and go along, and for a while, I let that going along define my character. Because I was repressing my own point of view, because like in that Nilsson song, 'Everybody was talkin' at me, so I couldn't hear the echoes of my mind.'
And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here's the distinction: Your conscience shouts, 'here's what you should do,' while your intuition whispers, 'here's what you could do.' Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.
Because once I turned to my intuition, and I tuned into it, certain projects began to pull me into them, and others, I turned away from.
And up until the 1980s, my movies were mostly, I guess what you could call 'escapist.' And I don't dismiss any of these movies -- not even 1941. Not even that one. And many of these early films reflected the values that I cared deeply about, and I still do. But I 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.
But then I directed The Color Purple. And this one film opened my eyes to experiences that I never could have imagined, and yet were all too real. 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.
I hope all of you find that sense of mission. Don't turn away from what's painful. Examine it. Challenge it.
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.
And the way you create a better future is by studying the past. Jurassic Park writer Michael Crichton, who graduated from both this college and this medical school, liked to quote a favorite professor of his who said that if you didn't know history, you didn't know anything. You were a leaf that didn't know it was part of a tree. So history majors: Good choice, you're in great shape...Not in the job market, but culturally.
So to me, this means we all have to tell our own stories. We have so many stories to tell. Talk to your parents and your grandparents, if you can, and ask them about their stories. And I promise you, like I have promised my kids, you will not be bored.
And that's why I so often make movies based on real-life events. I look to history not to be didactic, 'cause that's just a bonus, but I look because the past is filled with the greatest stories that have ever been told. Heroes and villains are not literary constructs, but they're at the heart of all history.
Love, support, courage, intuition. All of these things are in your hero's quiver, but still, a hero needs one more thing: A hero needs a villain to vanquish. And you're all in luck. This world is full of monsters. And there's racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred, there's political hatred, and there's religious hatred.
And to me, and, I think, to all of you, the only answer to more hate is more humanity. We gotta repair -- we have to replace fear with curiosity. 'Us' and 'them' -- we'll find the 'we' by connecting with each other. And by believing that we're members of the same tribe. And by feeling empathy for every soul -- even Yalies.
And finally, I wish you all a true, Hollywood-style happy ending. Go home. Thank you.