It is hard today…to consider life…specifically, our very own life and living manner…in a way that makes value for others. I’ve always believed my treasured professor, Doug Meeks, is spot on. My words but his inspiration: you don’t grow when you hoard. You grow when you give. And you cannot take it with you. My favorite addition to that is no hearse has a luggage rack.
Today. In the mix of Orlando and the political sword-fighting that has ensued, I am becoming less and less patient with the pontificating of Donald Trump. So grim, even preposterous, to hear the demeaning, all of which is absent of policy on how the rifts in our country can be addressed and the anguish lessened. The prattle stops short of any option beyond self-congratulating indulgence. But, I know. And I believe. And I affirm. Each of us has our own consideration. Will leave it at that.
What I won’t leave, however, is what I consider essential thought…spoken by the creative and valued film director, Ken Burns. I am taking the liberty, now, of sharing what he said to Stanford’s Class of 2016 in his Commencement speech. May it be more than words.
Someone once summarized a sermon a friend delivered…in this manner, “It is cotton candy. Fluffy, sweet and sticky…but totally without substance; it is vacuous.”
May what Ken Burns says do more than make sense. More—so much more—than cotton candy. May his words bring truth…no matter who each of us is…and what our future brings. A wise man he is. His thoughts worth sharing…blessings to each of us.
“Let me speak directly to the graduating class. Watch out. Here comes the advice. Look. I am the father of four daughters. If someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, take it effing seriously. And listen to them! Maybe, some day, we will make the survivor’s eloquent statement as important as Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Try not to make the other wrong, as I just did with that “presumptive” nominee. Be for something.
Be curious, not cool. Feed your soul, too. Every day. Remember, insecurity makes liars of us all. Not just presidential candidates. Don’t confuse success with excellence. The poet Robert Penn Warren once told me that “careerism is death.”
Do not descend too deeply into specialism either. Educate all of your parts. You will be healthier.
Free yourselves from the limitations of the binary world. It is just a tool. A means, not an end. Seek out—and have—mentors. Listen to them. The late theatrical director Tyrone Guthrie once said, “We are looking for ideas large enough to be afraid of again.” Embrace those new ideas. Bite off more than you can chew.
Travel. Do not get stuck in one place. Visit our national parks. Their sheer majesty may remind you of your own “atomic insignificance,” as one observer noted, but in the inscrutable ways of Nature, you will feel larger, inspirited, just as the egotist in our midst is diminished by his or her self-regard.
Insist on heroes. And be one.
Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all—not the car, not the TV, not the smartphone.
Make babies. One of the greatest things that will happen to you is that you will have to worry—I mean really worry—about someone other than yourself. It is liberating and exhilarating. I promise. Ask your parents.
Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means simply, “God in us.”
Serve your country. Insist that we fight the right wars. Convince your government, as Lincoln knew, that the real threat always and still comes from within this favored land. Governments always forget that.
Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country—they just make our country worth defending.
Believe, as Arthur Miller told me in an interview for my very first film on the Brooklyn Bridge, “believe, that maybe you too could add something that would last and be beautiful.”
And vote. You indelibly underscore your citizenship—and our connection with each other—when you do.
Good luck. And Godspeed.”