At Harvard’s 365th commencement, Steven Spielberg encouraged graduates to listen to their own voices in the ultimate string of character defining moment that is life.
Spielberg was the keynote speaker at Harvard University’s graduation commencement May 26th, 2016. The award-winning director, screenwriter and producer addressed graduates, alumni, friends and family on the next chapter for graduates. Spielberg related his own life journey with graduates, emphasizing to let their character be defined by choices made by their intuition rather than conscience.
“I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience,” Spielberg said. “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.”
Spielberg went on to speak about a sense of mission, referencing back to the internal whisper. He spoke on how Abraham Lincoln and Oskar Schindler used their own internal whisper to make the correct moral choices.
“In your defining moments do not let your morals be swayed by convenience or expediency,” said Spielberg. “Sticking to your character requires a lot of courage, and to be courageous you’re going to need a lot of support.”
Relating life to many of his movies, Spielberg said that love, support, courage and intuition are a big part of being a hero, but that heroes need one more thing – a villain.
“A hero needs a villain to vanquish. This world is full of monsters and there’s racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred, there’s political hatred, and there’s religious hatred,” said Spielberg. “The only answer to more hate is more humanity. We’ve got to repair; we have to replace fear with curiosity – us and them.”
Though the speech seemed to be deep and filled with a strong message, Spielberg continually lightened the mood with subtle jokes, even specific to Harvard students.
“We’ll find the ‘we’ by connecting with each other, by believing we’re members of the same tribe and by feeling empathy for every soul, even Yalees,” said Spielberg.
Though thousands were in attendance, the majority of the crowd looked to be attentive to Spielberg’s engaging speech. Many attenders took pictures and recorded the ceremony via their phones and cameras. Harvard presented 7,727 degrees and 11 certificates total to graduates that day.
Previous to the commencement, Harvard University put out a special notice in regard to the limited amount of tickets for the ceremony, stating that “a ticket allows admission, but does not guarantee a seat.”
Spielberg ended the speech with having attendees look into a stranger’s eyes to emphasize the message of staying connected with humanity and joked about the awkward feeling most people were experiencing.
“That emotion you’re feeling is our shared humanity mixed in with a little social discomfort,” said Spielberg. “But if you remember nothing else from today, I hope you remember this moment of human connection.”
He ended the speech with a reference to his films, which earned him a standing ovation from most of the crowd.
“I’ve imagined many possible futures in my films, but you will determine the actual future and I hope that it’s filled with justice, and peace,” said Spielberg. “And finally, I wish you all a truly Hollywood-style happy ending. I hope you outrun the T-Rex, catch the criminal and for your parent’s sake, maybe every now and then, just like E.T. – go home.”