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The Greatest Commencement Speeches in History: Denzel Washington at University of Pennsylvania

The Greatest Commencement Speeches in History is a weekly column that compiles the most memorable speeches in history with the goal to emphasize on the power of public speaking, to illustrate its importance, impact, and necessity to master.

Today we keep our focus on one commencement speech that has the power to change our perspective on success and failure – the “Fall Forward” Commencement Speech delivered by Denzel Washington at the University of Pennsylvania.  Here are the most important outtakes:

“I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Nothing. Nelson Mandela said: “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that’s less than the one you’re capable of living.”

“If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall… forward. At least I figure that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit. Fall forward.”

“Here’s what I mean:

Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career—the most in the history of baseball.

But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs.

Fall forward.

Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that?

I didn’t either—because #1,001 was the light bulb.

Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.”

“First… you will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose.  You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. That’s probably not a traditional message for a graduation ceremony.  But, hey, I’m telling you—embrace it. Because it’s inevitable.”

“Here’s my second point about failure: If you don’t fail… you’re not even trying. My wife told me this expression: “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.”

“So get out there. Give it everything you’ve got—whether it’s your time, your talent, your prayers, or your treasure. Because remember this: You’ll never see a U-haul behind a hearse.”

“So what are you going to do with what you have? And I’m not talking how much you have.”

“Now here’s my last point about failure: Sometimes it’s the best way to figure out where you’re going. Your life will never be a straight path.”

“To not only take risks, but to be open to life. To accept new views and to be open to new opinions. To be willing to speak at commencement at one of the country’s best universities… even though you’re scared stiff. While it may be frightening, it will also be rewarding. Because the chances you take… the people you meet… the people you love…the faith that you have—that’s what’s going to define your life.”

“And when you fall throughout life—and maybe even tonight after a few too many glasses of champagne—fall forward.”

Cover photo credit: YouTube

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