Denzel Washington is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood, but the actor confessed to stirrings of stage fright when faced with a daunting role at the University of Pennsylvania; standing before nearly 5,000 graduates as the University’s Commencement speaker.
The award winning actor described his experience at the Ivy League graduation ceremony as, “a little overwhelming and out of my comfort zone.”
Washington says he accepted the invitation to speak as a challenge and a lesson for himself. “I had to come exactly because I might make a fool of myself. I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Nothing.”
In his speech the actor said, “Failure is inevitable.” Instead of having something to fall back on, he recommended graduates should “fall forward” — learn from their mistakes and to on keep trying. He referenced Thomas Edison, who had countless failed experiments before experiencing the euphoria of success with the light bulb.
“Do you have the guts to fail?” Washington asked. “If you don’t fail, you’re not even trying.”
Washington shared one of his own early “failures”, confessing he was a pre-med student at Fordham University in New York, before he switched to pre-law, then to journalism and when he was close to flunking out, the actor switched to drama and finally received his degree.
He went on to share a second failure from about about 30 years ago, when he suffered through a miserable tryout for a Broadway musical. Then last year, he found himself on that same stage, only this time he won a Tony award for his work in “Fences.”
Washington’s speech resonated with physics major and new grad, Adam Shore. “No one ever tells a graduating class, ‘You’re going to fail.’ But it was very important for everyone to hear that. You can’t go … thinking you’re going to succeed in every way. You have to be realistic.”