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) and summary 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.
Finally, I pray that you put your slippers way under the bed tonight, so that when you wake up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to reach them.
And while you’re down there, say thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents, thank you for love, thank you for kindness, thank you for humility, thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity.
Say ‘thank you’ in advance for what’s already yours.
So that’s how I live my life, that’s why – one of the reasons where I am today.
Say thank you in advance for what is already yours.
True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you sent beforehand to indicate that it’s yours already.
I’ll say it again.
True desire in the heart, that itch that you have, whatever it is you want to do, that thing that you want to do to help others and to grow and to make money, that desire, that itch, that’s God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, already to indicate that it’s yours.
And anything you want good you can have, so claim it, work hard to get it. When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up, each one, teach one.
Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.
SUMMARY OF THIS SPEECH:
Denzel Washington’s speech titled “PUT GOD FIRST” delivers a powerful message filled with wisdom and life lessons. Here’s a 500-word summary of the key points from his speech:
1. Acknowledgment of Support: Denzel begins by congratulating the graduates for their achievements, but he also emphasizes that they didn’t get to where they are entirely on their own. He acknowledges the role of parents, friends, mentors, and others who have supported and prayed for their success.
2. The Role of Faith: Denzel stresses the importance of putting God first in everything one does. He shares a personal anecdote from his life, explaining that his success is a result of God’s grace and guidance. He encourages the graduates to recognize the significance of faith in their journey and to remain humble and faithful.
3. Overcoming Failures: Denzel urges the graduates to “fail big.” He encourages them not to fear failure but to embrace it as a part of life. He uses an example of a cognitive test involving nine dots and five lines to illustrate that thinking outside the box is often necessary to overcome challenges. He emphasizes the need for setting goals, working hard, and maintaining discipline and consistency to achieve those goals.
4. Differentiating Busyness from Progress: Denzel warns against the misconception that being busy equates to making progress. He emphasizes that hard work is essential for success but that it should be directed toward meaningful goals. He advises the graduates to have both life goals and daily goals to stay on track.
5. Material Wealth vs. Impact: Denzel’s third point is a profound one: “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.” He underscores the idea that material possessions and wealth cannot be taken into the afterlife. What truly matters, he explains, is what one does with their life and resources. He encourages the graduates to use their talents to help others and to find joy and success in making a positive impact.
6. The Selfish Act of Helping Others: Denzel reiterates that the most selfish act one can commit is to help someone else. He emphasizes that the gratification and goodness that come from helping others far surpass material possessions, such as jewelry or large houses. He advises the graduates to seek fulfillment in assisting others.
7. A Closing Prayer: Denzel concludes his speech with a heartfelt prayer. He suggests that the graduates place their slippers far under their beds at night so that they have to kneel down to reach them in the morning. During this humble moment, he encourages them to express gratitude for various blessings in their lives, including grace, mercy, understanding, wisdom, love, kindness, humility, peace, and prosperity. Denzel shares that this practice of thanking God in advance has played a significant role in his life.
8. Claiming Desires: Denzel emphasizes the importance of recognizing that true desires in one’s heart are indications that those desires are meant for them. He encourages the graduates to claim their goals, work diligently to achieve them, and then extend a helping hand to others in their pursuit of success.
9. Making a Difference: Denzel’s final message is a call to action. He urges the graduates not just to aspire to make a living but to aspire to make a difference. He stresses that success should be measured not only in personal achievements but also in the positive impact one has on others and the world.
In his speech, Denzel Washington delivers a heartfelt and inspiring message about the importance of faith, resilience, setting goals, hard work, and helping others. His words serve as a source of guidance and motivation for the graduates as they embark on their life journeys.
Recommended Book/Course for Further Reading:
- Best Inspirational Quotes by TD Jakes That Will Help You During This Lockdown
- Why I Slept Behind A Fridge For Two Years: Hasan Abo-Shally (Transcript)
- Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Lauren Weinstein (Full Transcript)
- How I Help People Understand Vitiligo: Lee Thomas (Transcript)
- Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech 2009 (Full Transcript)