Steven Spielberg provided the commencement speech for Harvard University’s graduating class on May 26, and just as one might expect, he offered up more than a few movie analogies in a sentimental, personal speech about the value of keeping the past in mind while moving ahead into the future.
“What you choose to do next is what we call in the movies ‘the character-defining moment,'” said Spielberg. “Now, these moments you’re very familiar with, like in the last Star Wars, The Force Awakens, when Rey realizes the Force is with her, or Indiana Jones choosing mission over fear by jumping into a pile of snakes. 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.”
A 16-time Academy Award nominee and three-time winner, Spielberg himself dropped out of college when he was offered a job at Universal Studios after previously serving as an unpaid intern for the studio. He returned to California State University many years later in order to complete his degree.
Spielberg’s speech at the school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is well worth watching for all movie fans, and also touches on topics including social media, history, and the importance of looking beyond your comfort zone in all your creative endeavors.
“Up until the 1980s, most of my movies were what you could call ‘escapist.’ I don’t dismiss any of these movies, not even 1941,” said Spielberg. “Not even that one. Many of these early films reflected the values I cared deeply about, and I still do, but I was in a celluloid bubble because I 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 more people needed to meet these characters and experience these truths. While making that film, I realized a movie could also be a mission. I hope all of you find that sense of mission.”
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