Denzel Washington is an American actor, director, and producer. He has received three Golden Globe awards, one Tony Award, and two Academy Awards.
Below is the full text (Edited version) of Washington’s famous and inspiring speech titled “PUT GOD FIRST” delivered during a commencement address at Dillard University in 2015. This transcript has been edited for near 100% accuracy for those who are learning English with such speeches.
NOTABLE QUOTE FROM THIS SPEECH:
“Put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me. Everything that I’ve accomplished, everything that you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”
Let me take this moment to wholeheartedly congratulate each and every one of you, today. You graduated. You did it. You made it. Congratulation to you. And you did it all by yourself, nobody helped you.
No…that’s not – that’s what you know – that’s what I thought when I was young, I started to really make it as an actor. I came in, I talked to my mother, I said ‘Ma, did you think that this was going to happen, I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’
And she said, ‘Boy, stop it right there. Stop it right there. Stop it right there’.
She said, “If you only knew, how many people they have been praying for you. How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer clothes she gave me, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind,” as she said it.
She said, Oh, you did it all by yourself, I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: You can go outside and get a mop and bucket and wash them windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.
So, I’m saying that to say ‘I want to congratulate all the parents and friends and family and aunties and uncles and grandmother and grandfathers, and teachers and, friends and enemies — all the people that helped you to get where you are today, congratulations to you all.’
I’m going to tell about two to three stories. I’m going to keep it really short. I remember my graduation speaker, got up there and went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
So I’m going to keep it short.
NUMBER ONE: PUT GOD FIRST.
Put God first in everything you do. Everything that you think you see in me. Everything that I’ve accomplished, everything that you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.
Forty years ago, March 27, 1975 – it was 40 years ago just this past March, I was flunking out of college. I had a 1.7 grade point average, I hope none of you can relate.
I had a 1.7 grade point average, I was sitting in my mother’s beauty shop. They still call the beauty shop now, what they call it? Yeah, and I was sitting in a beauty parlor. I was sitting in my mother’s beauty parlor.
And I’m looking in the mirror and I see behind me this woman under the dryer and every time she looked up –every time I looked up she was looking at me. She was looking me in the eye, I don’t know who she was and I said you know, she said somebody give me a pen, give me a pencil, I have a prophecy.
March 27, 1975, she said, “Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.”
Now mind you I flunked out of college. I’m thinking about joining the army. I didn’t know what I was going to go and she is telling me I’m going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.
Well I have traveled the world. And I have spoke to millions of people, but that’s not the most important thing – the success that I had. The most important thing is that what she taught me, and what she told me that day has stayed with me since.
I’ve been protected, I’ve been directed, I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life and it’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with Him but he always stuck with me.
So stick with Him, in everything you do, if you think you want to do, what you think I’ve done, then do what I’ve done. And stick with God.
NUMBER TWO: FAIL BIG.
That’s right. Fail big. Today is the beginning of the rest of your life and you can be just – it’s going to be very frightening. And it’s a new world out there, it’s a mean world out there. And you only live once, so do what you feel passionate about, passionate about.
Take chances professionally, don’t be afraid to fail, there is an old IQ test that was nine dots and you had to draw five lines with the pencil within these nine dots without lifting the pencil.
The only way to do it was to go outside the box. So don’t be afraid to go outside the box. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to fail big, to dream big. But remember, dreams without goals, are just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointment.
So have dreams, but have goals — life goals, yearly goals, monthly goals, daily goals. I try to give myself a goal every day, sometimes just to not curse somebody out. Simple goals but have goals.
And understand that to achieve these goals, you must apply discipline and consistency. In order to achieve your goals, you must apply discipline which you’ve already done, and consistency every day, not just one Tuesday and just a two days, you have to work at it.
Every day you have to plan, every day you heard the saying, we don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan. Hard work works. Working really hard is what successful people do. And in this text tweet, twerk world that you’ve grown up in, remember just because you’re doing a lot more doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done.
Remember that. Just because you’re doing a lot more, doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done. Don’t confuse movement with progress.
My mother told me, she said ‘Yeah, because you can run and play all the time and never get anywhere.’ So continue to strive, continue to have goals, continue to progress.
NUMBER THREE: YOU’LL NEVER SEE A U-HAUL BEHIND A HEARSE.
I’ll say it again, you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried it, they got robbed. That’s all they got. You can’t take it with you, with you.
And it’s not how much you have – it’s what you do, with what you have. We all have different talents, some of you’ll be doctors, some lawyers, some scientists, some educators, some nurses, some teachers. Yeah, okay. Some preachers.
The most selfish thing you can do in this world is help someone else. Why is this selfish, because the gratification, the goodness that comes to you, the good feeling, the good feeling that I get from helping others, nothing’s better than that.
Well one of two things but, nothing’s better than that, not – not jewelry, not big house I have, not big cars, but it’s the joy; that’s where the joy is, in helping others. That’s where the success is in helping others.