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The Greatest Speeches in History: Steven Spielberg’s Commencement Speech at Harvard University

The Greatest 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.

This week we take a closer look at Steven Spielberg’s Commencement Speech at Harvard University. Here are the most important outtakes from the commencement address, delivered by the famous filmmaker in front of class 2016:

“How many of you took 37 years to graduate? Because, like most of you, I began college in my teens, but sophomore year, I was offered my dream job at Universal Studios, so I dropped out. I told my parents if my movie career didn’t go well, I’d re-enroll.”

“Most people go to college for an education, and some go for their parents, but I went for my kids. I’m the father of seven, and I kept insisting on the importance of going to college, but I hadn’t walked the walk. So, in my fifties, I re-enrolled at Cal State — Long Beach, and I earned my degree.”

“Well I left college because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and some of you know, too — but some of you don’t. Or maybe you thought you knew but are now questioning that choice. Maybe you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to tell your parents that you want to be a doctor and not a comedy writer.”

“Now 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 strong, long string of character-defining moments. And I was lucky that at 18 I knew what I exactly wanted to do.

But I didn’t know who I was. How could I? And how could any of us? Because for the first 25 years of our lives, we are trained to listen to voices that are not our own. Parents and professors fill our heads with wisdom and information, and then employers and mentors take their place and explain how this world really works.”

“And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, ‘here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.”

“I hope all of you find that sense of mission. Don’t turn away from what’s painful. Examine it. Challenge it.”

“Your job is to create a world that lasts forever. You are the future innovators, motivators, leaders and caretakers.”

“And the way you create a better future is by studying the past.”

“So to me, this means we all have to tell our own stories. We have so many stories to tell. Talk to your parents and your grandparents, if you can, and ask them about their stories. And I promise you, like I have promised my kids, you will not be bored.”

“And again, this is why it’s so important to listen to your internal whisper. […] In your defining moments, do not let your morals be swayed by convenience or expediency. Sticking to your character requires a lot of courage. And to be courageous, you’re going to need a lot of support.”

“But make sure this empathy isn’t just something that you feel. Make it something you act upon.”

“And please stay connected. Please never lose eye contact. This may not be a lesson you want to hear from a person who creates media, but we are spending more time looking down at our devices than we are looking in each other’s eyes.”

“And finally, I wish you all a true, Hollywood-style happy ending. I hope you outrun the T. rex, catch the criminal and for your parents’ sake, maybe every now and then, just like E.T.: Go home.”

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