8 gems from Natalie Portman's speech to Harvard seniors
The A-list actress tells graduates at her alma mater to use their inexperience as an asset.
Natalie Portman was 11 years old when she made her film debut in the 1994 film "The Professional."
Coincidentally, 1994 was also the year that most of the students she addressed on Wednesday, during Harvard University's Senior Class Day ceremony, were born. It's a fact the 33-year-old actress and mother described, jokingly, as "appalling."
But it wasn't all humorous musings and cheeky advice in Portman's speech on a sunny, warm day in Cambridge, Mass. The Israeli-born, U.S.-raised, Academy Award-winning star of such films as "Black Swan" and "V for Vendetta" says her life has been much more than a series of successes and accolades. Portman, who graduated from the esteemed Ivy League institution in 2003, says she weathered years of crippling insecurity and crushing self-doubt before finding peace, comfort and courage.
Her touching send-off included some morsels of wisdom that she hopes graduates hold onto as they embark on their newly minted adult lives. Here are a few of our favorites:
“If your reasons are your own, your path, even if it’s a strange and clumsy path, will be wholly yours, and you will control the rewards of what you do by making your internal life fulfilling. ... Just starting out, one of your biggest strengths is not knowing how things are supposed to be. You can compose freely because your mind isn't cluttered by too many pieces, and you don't take for granted the way things are. The only way you know how to do things is your own way."
On owning your nerdy beginnings:
"Since I'm ancient and the internet was just starting when I was in high school, people didn't pay that much attention to the fact that I was an actress. I was known mainly at school for having a backpack bigger than I was and for always having White-Out on my hands as I hated seeing anything crossed out in my notebooks. ... I was voted in my senior yearbook as 'Most Likely to be a Contestant on Jeopardy.' Or, code for 'nerdiest.'"
On dealing with rejection:
"I feel lucky that my first experience releasing a film was initially such a disaster by all standard measures. I learned early that my meaning had to be from the experience of making the film, and the possibility of connecting with individuals rather than the foremost trophies in the industry – financial and critical success. ... I started choosing only jobs I was passionate about, and from which I knew I could glean meaningful experiences. This thoroughly confused everyone around me. Agents, producers and audiences alike."
On maintaining college friendships:
"I wish for you that your friends will be with you through it all, as my friends from Harvard have been together since we graduated. My friends from school are still very close. We have nursed each other through heartaches and danced at each other's weddings. We've held each other at funerals and rocked each other's new babies. We've worked together on projects, helped each other get jobs, and thrown parties for when we've quit bad ones. ... Grab the good people around you, don't let them go. The biggest asset this school offers you is a group of peers that will be both your family and your school for life."
On caring for others:
"The most fulfilling things I've experienced have truly been the human interactions ... helping others ends up helping you more than anyone. Getting out of your own concerns and caring about someone else's life for awhile reminds you that you are not the center of the universe, and that in the ways we are generous, or not, we can change the course of someone's life."
On embracing your limitations:
"Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people's expectations, standards or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons. ... Accept your lack of knowledge, and use it as your asset. Your inexperience is an asset and will make you think in original and unconventional ways.”
On what a Harvard degree means:
"My Harvard degree represents for me the curiosity and invention that we're encouraged here, the friendships I sustained. The way Professor Graham told me not to describe the way light hit a flower, but rather the shadow that the flower cast. The way Professor Scarry talked about theater as a transformative, religious force. How Professor Coslin showed just how much of our visual cortex is activated just by imagining."
"People always talk about diving into things they're afraid of. That never worked for me. If I'm afraid, I run away, and I would probably urge my child to do the same. Fear protects us in many ways. What has served me is diving into my own obliviousness, being more confident than I should be, which everyone tends to decry in American kids, and those of us who have been grade-inflated and ego-inflated. Well, it can be a good thing if it makes you try things you may never have tried."