2011 Class Day Remarks
May 30, 2011 -- As Prepared
Thank you. Thank you, Kristin, and thanks to all of you for having me. Good morning. To those of you who have not yet gone to sleep ... how's that working out for you?
Twenty-four years ago I was sitting right out there, where you sit today. And I was wearing this signed and decorated orange and black jacket. It has Class of '87 painted all over it! My hair was huge! My Reeboks white. My jeans acid-washed. You weren't even born.
It really feels like yesterday and I'm having the same feelings right now that I did on that very day. Excitement. Nausea. Looking forward to the future and just wanting to say something smart.
The letter I got asking me to be this year's Class Day speaker was very much like my Princeton acceptance letter.
I got it on April 1st. I naturally thought it was an April Fools' joke. I put it aside. Re-read it. Felt the embossed letterhead. Maybe I should just double-check. I had my mom call to confirm. It was real. Both were real.
I immediately felt like I had gotten accepted to Princeton all over again! I've been accepted! I don't have to go to Harvard!
Then, the sickness and severe doubt sets in. ... "What if they made a mistake? What if I fail? Was I their first choice? Who couldn't they get? Why did Snookie pass?"
Which quickly gave way to the realization, "Oh s---, I have to write a speech. I have an assignment. No way. When is it due? Will I be graded? Can it be 'pass-fail?'"
But, wait, I graduated from Princeton, with honors. French lit, but who cares? It's still a degree. I can do this. I realized the best thing to do was get my head back in the game. But where could I find peace and quite to write a speech? What about my old carrel in the bowls of Firestone on B floor! Would it still be my quiet, cluttered, slightly musty home away from dorm? In any event, I'd need to get out my highlighters and red markers and note cards. I'd call my boyfriend Dean Cain, tell him I couldn't see him. We haven't dated in 20 years, but whatever. Put on the freshman 40. Yes, it was 40 back in my day. I'd hit Thomas Sweet and get to writing. Now, I have done a lot of public speaking. I have survived large crowds, small groups, kids, adults, adults and their pets, soldiers, different languages, two husbands, two daughters, a dog. Nothing could rattle me ... except coming here and speaking to you. Why? Because you are some smart people.
OK, my version of how this would go? Come up to podium, try to speak, throw up. Well, thankfully I have yet to puke on my old jacket. I wish I could say I showed the same restraint during sign-ins for Cap and Gown. Just the mention of a boilermaker makes me dry heave. Oh, I can still drink 'em. I just don't like the word.
Anyway, it is because of the love, awe, respect and gratitude I have for this institution that it feels so precious to be standing here.
I am honored to have been invited here today and have such admiration for all of you and for all those who helped you reach this extraordinary moment in your lives. And it is extraordinary. Tomorrow is your Commencement. Your beginning, and truly a triumph.
And time is about to accelerate for all of you at a pace you cannot even imagine. When you leave the coveted safety of the "Orange Bubble," you will no longer have a syllabus to follow or an adviser to consult. You actually may never be this protected again. How exciting. You'll spill out of here, untethered, unguided and unstoppable. You'll leave here to do the same thing all of us have done before you -- make mistakes. Grow, make mistakes, learn, grow some more, make fewer mistakes.
But let's focus on now. I know that in the next 24 hours there are awards to be given out, activities to enjoy, tearful promises to be made and beer to be consumed. But in this immediate moment I'd like to ask you to do me a favor. For a quick, but resonant, second, I'd like you all to really revel in the fact that you did it. I'll never forget the day my high school adviser told me I'd probably never get in to Princeton, let alone graduate. Well, I did. You did.
I know it is a bit corny, and the Ivy League prides itself on never being corny. However, I was so quick to rush through my own Class Day and move on ... I wish someone would have told me to just take in the magnitude of my achievement.
Think it or whisper it to yourselves or to those next to you. "I did it." "You did it!" Enjoy that truth. It is so easy to get caught up in the noise when the simple and quiet truth is what carries the most weight. You are graduating from Princeton University.
You survived. And whether it was your idea or not, you are here today.
Through all the hard work, the fear, the anger, the laughter, the tears, the fatigue, the adrenalin, the weight gain, the weight loss, the joy, the sadness, the feelings of success, the threat of failure, the love, the excitement and the fun. And that was all just during Nude Olympics. What? Excuse me? What? No Nude Olympics? Outlawed? OK, wow that changes ... I'm nude under my jacket. I thought afterward we'd ... well, OK, never mind, I'll keep going. Seriously, you earned this poignant moment.
You have shared so much with those around you and you will continue to do so. You worked hard (some harder than others) and now you get the rare moniker of Princeton University Graduate.
Seriously, that can never be taken away from you and, for the rest of your life, that title will rarely not precede you.
But, it should also never be disrespected nor misused. When you meet someone who went here, it usually takes them all but five seconds to mention that they graduated from Princeton. I get it. It is a calling card that can and will open doors. But its definition does not come up as "entitlement."
Please maintain the proper regard for it and use it wisely and for good. Respect the word "Princeton." It is an impressive word to see in print -- on resumes, the back of a book, a plaque. Less so in a police report, Page Six, screamed outside a Hooters or tattooed on your (butt) during spring break.
I left after my four years here with great memories and great stores. That's one of the unique ties that bond us. Great stories. Our experiences, the commonalities that we all share. Like when your entire academic record gets printed in Life magazine? Right? Or when Japan's Royal Prince Hirohito wants to meet you and the dean comes, gets you out of a midterm and asks you to go to Prospect House to welcome the prince to campus. Huh? It was crazy then! Or when George Michael tells you he's not going to date you anymore because he wants to focus on his solo career! Then you find out he's gay! Right? These are all moments we have experiences and we will always laugh at! Oh, 1987, how I miss you.
This university doesn't just teach you about subjects, it teaches you how to have independent thought, how to take direction and give it, how to engage in heated debate ... sometimes over such important subjects as:
To bonfire or not to bonfire. Or ...
If it's possible to actually get through four years of Princeton without doing laundry if you only wear free T-shirts from Student Agencies.
Over the past four years (and I hope it was just four, this place gets expensive), you have learned much.
You learned how to form your own opinions and support them.
You learned how to speak, but more importantly, you learned how to listen.
You learned how to persevere when you considered quitting. You learned how to drink, I mean, think. You gained an intellectual foundation that will aid you in the real world.
You are leaving here not so much changed, but rather, revealed. The education you have received was intended to develop your character and teach you the imperative of integrity. My time spent here was a huge gift, not only because of the complicated and beautiful friendships that I made and still rely on to this day. My days here were as conventional and normal as I ever could have hoped … and that was because of my peers. ... Yes, the Enquirer did try to get nude photos of me in the Mathey College shower. But the students protected me. Today, after two kids, I'd pay somebody just to want to take pictures of me in the nude!
And, oh yes, there was the time my roommate hung my "Brooke Doll" from a noose in our dorm room in place of mistletoe! Serves me right for having OK'd a Barbie in my likeness thinking it would never come back to haunt me.
But loyalty is what I always got. And that loyalty, that allegiance, never diminishes.
I left Princeton realizing that learning is a lifelong enterprise. I also graduated more confident and proud of myself than I had ever been.
I was quite lucky to already have had a career in place upon graduating. And when I re-entered that career, I thought I would be welcomed back with open arms. Because I was now not just an actress but I was an actress with an education!
Well, evidently, that is not a quality that studios and producers deem primary for their talent. I had lost all of my footing in those four years in their eyes and had to earn my way back inside. That is another speech altogether -- I'll be giving it tonight at Winberie's ... four beers in, it gets ugly. My point is -- without the four years of learning and growth that culminated in my degree, I would have never survived my industry, a business that predicates itself on eating its young. I would have become a cliché. I would never have been able to adapt and to re-invent: from movies, to television, to stage, to author, to mom. I've been lucky, but only because I've worked hard. And had that same strong foundation that each of you carries with you today.
Being an actress, for instance, is a lot like having to go through bicker on a daily basis! And I believe all industries are like that. I have always had to prove myself. Today you have proven yourself. You will need to continue to prove yourself. Once you graduate, there will be no guarantees. Even if you work your (butt) off, you will rarely get what you think you want or deserve. Things will rarely go as you direct. You will, however, get what you are meant to. And because you now have much of what it takes to succeed, you will soar. But you must choose to do so.
And success, I believe, comes in a myriad of packages and with various types of wrapping.
Please continue to aim high and strive for your best, but learn to embrace, and revel in, your unique successes. Compare not to others. This will be difficult but valuable, I promise.
I want you to acknowledge what you have been given and what you gave to this university and what you will be called upon to do with it outside these walls. Your diploma is a passport into the next phase of your lives.
Many of you know exactly what you expect and what you want when you leave, and many of you are not clear at all.
One path is not necessarily better than the other. It's OK to not know exactly what you want. Knowing that you are now equipped to choose wisely should ease the anxiety. But, a bit of anxiety isn't necessarily a bad thing. It keeps us on our toes. Use it to motivate, not inhibit.
There are a multitude of options and paths in your future. Please choose because of undeniable desire. Don't make choices because [of] what you should do, but what you could do. Choose because of enthusiasm and passion.
Ask yourself: What will your example be? What do you want your life to look like? How will you choose to carry yourself? Please don't be lazy. Or act entitled. Please continue to work hard. But please take breaks to be with those you love, and enjoy the simple things of life as well.
In a poem "Dash" by Linda Ellis -- stop me if you've heard this -- a man at a memorial of a close friend comments on the fact that when somebody dies, the two dates that always get highlighted are that of birth and that of death. But he was struck by the importance of the dash in between those two dates.
The dash is what holds our worth. The poem reminds us that what matters is how we spend that dash.
You are all really beginning your dash.
And as you do, I urge you to do many things:
I urge you to surround yourself with good, truthful people. It'll make your life greater and save a lot of money in therapy.
I urge you not to let fear inhibit you -- I certainly would not be standing here if I did.
I urge you to always stretch beyond your comfort zone -- see above.
I beg you never to settle for less because of your, or more importantly, others' doubts. I've had great reviews and I've heard I have [had] bad ones. The bad ones are not worth reading.
I remember not getting into the Tigerlilies. I tried out, I tried hard, I gave it my best shot. I did not get in. I was devastated, and although I never tried out for the Tigerlilies again, it did not deter me from singing. This year, I am about to return to star on Broadway in a musical for the fifth time. I don't know if this has any relevance, I just wanted to let the Tigerlilies know what's going on with me.
Define your own boundaries -- you're less likely to trespass.
Mistakes. Mistakes. Mistakes.
Fix it. Fix it. Fix it.
I urge you to remain present. I urge you to value your own time, but not regard it as more important than someone else's. I urge you not to equate vulnerability with weakness. Laugh and cry, but laugh a little more. And don't ever take yourself too seriously.
I urge you to love fully and deeply and allow yourself to be loved the same. It is possible to do both and still hold a good job -- trust me.
I urge you to do it all.
I've spent the last couple of days walking around talking to you guys. I've met some amazing people. I've learned some interesting new things. Tonight, several graduates generously invited me to Terrace Club to go robotripping with a date who looks just like Christopher Walken. Yes, that sounds like fun. I'm a Princeton grad, I like to try new things.
And I sat with a few students. We talked about the different graduates and groups. They pointed to a group -- I-bankers -- all waiting to get their Goldman Sachs jobs. They called them a bunch of "tools." They used that word a lot.
There's another group wanting to go into politics and are real protective of their reps: a "bunch of tools." And over there: All those people live in "Tool Tower." People who graduate and then go out to just make money. ... Tools. Tools. All tools.
It got me thinking ...
In the four years that you spent applying yourself, studying and learning, we have made the world bleak.
We've broken our economy. We've voted in politicians who are so fundamentally far apart on issues that hope and change are not happening. We need help. We need you -- we need you to fix what we broke.
So, I say this in the most respectful way -- you are all a bunch of tools. Yes, Brooke Shields is calling the entire class of 2011 a bunch of tools because you are tools that we need. Tools that we need to fix this country. Go out and be bankers, be politicians, scientists, artists, thinkers -- but, you need to choose what kind of tool you want to be.
When you are forced into a corner, when options are few and desperation kicks in -- heroes are made. Forge ahead, make change responsibly, and remember, there is a world behind you. I applaud you.
Thank you and God bless.