Here is the full transcript (Edited version) of Actor Denzel Washington’s Famous “Fall Forward” Speech at University of Pennsylvania. The event occurred on Monday, May 16, 2011.
Listen to the MP3 audio of this speech: Denzel Washington’s Famous Fall Forward Speech Full MP3
President Gutmann: Please join me in welcoming Denzel Washington.
Denzel Washington – Academy Award-winning and Tony Award-winning actor and director.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
I am obviously the most unorganized; everybody else has nice boxes when they’re script up and I just kind of got all my stuff here and put inside of a magazine, so. So in fact, I don’t even have it in the right order, wait a minute. Let me get it in the right order here….
So if it starts like flying around the stage, just run around and grab it for me, bring it back up here for me. I’ll keep going as I can.
President Gutmann; Provost Price; Board Chair Cohen; fellow honorees; beautiful honorees and today’s graduates.
I’m honored and grateful for the invitation today. It’s always been great to be on the Penn campus. I’ve been here before a lot of times for basketball games. My son played at the Palestra, played on the basketball team. Coach didn’t give him enough playing time, but we’ll talk about that later.
No, I’m really pleased with the progress that Coach Allen has made and no, I do. I am, I really am. And I hope him the best success in the future.
I’d always get a warm welcome when I come to Pennsylvania, when I come to Philadelphia — except on the few occasions when I’d wear my Yankees cap.
It’s like taking your life in your hands around it when you wear Yankee cap, I am telling you. I met a couple of guys and they were like: “Hey, we love you Denzel. But you walking around with that hat on…we don’t care who you are.”
So you’ll be happy to see that I’m not wearing my Yankees cap today.
But I am wearing my Yankees socks, my Yankees t-shirt, and my Yankees jock shirts, my Yankee underwear. Not my Yankee cap.
Still, I’ll be honest with you: I’m a little nervous. I am not used to speaking at a graduation of this magnitude, it’s a little overwhelming. This is out of my comfort zone.
Dress me up in army fatigues. Or throw me on top of a moving train, someone said unstoppable or ask me to play Malcolm X, Rubin Hurricane Carter, Alonzo from Training Day: I can do all that.
But a commencement speech? It’s a very serious affair and it’s a different ballgame. There are literally thousands and thousands of people here.
And for those who say— well you’re a movie star, millions of people watch you speak all the time…… Yes, that’s technically true. But I’m not actually there in the theater — watching them watching me. I think that makes sense.
I mean I’m not there when they cough… or fidget… or pull out their iPhone and text their boyfriend or scratch their behinds.
But from up here: I can see every single one of you. And that makes me uncomfortable.
So please, don’t pull out your iPhones and don’t text your boyfriend until after I’m done. Please.
But if you need to scratch your behinds, go right ahead. I’ll understand.
I was thinking about the speech, which I should say. I figured the best way to keep your attention would be to talk about something really, juicy Hollywood stuff. I thought I could start with me and Russell Crowe getting into some arguments on the set of American Gangster…but no. You’re a group of high-minded intellectuals. You’re not interested in that.
I thought about “private” moment I had backstage with Angelina Jolie in her dressing room at the Oscars?… I said no, I don’t think so. This is an Ivy League school. Angelina Jolie half-naked in her dressing room…? Who wants to hear about that?
No one, no one, this is Penn. That stuff wouldn’t go over well here. Maybe at Drexel—but not over here.
I’m in trouble now.
I was back to square one feeling the pressure. So now you’re probably thinking — if it was going to be this difficult, why’d I even accept today’s invitation in the first place?
Well, you know my son goes here. That’s number one. That’s a good reason. And I always like to check to see how my money’s being spent. And I’m sure there’s some parents out there who can relate to what I’m talking about!
And there were other good reasons for me to show up. Sure, I got an Academy Award… but I never had something called “Magic Meatballs” after waiting in line for half an hour at a food truck.
Yes, I’ve talked face-to-face with President Obama… but I never talked face to face with a guy named “Kweeder” who sings bad songs at Smokes on a Tuesday night.
Yes, I’ve played a detective battling demons… but I’ve never been to a school in my life where the squirrel population has gone bananas. I mean they break into the dorm rooms and they’re walking around campus. I think I saw some carrying books on the way to class.
So I had to be here. I had to come… even though I was afraid I might make a fool of myself. In fact, if you really want to know the truth: I had to come exactly because I might make a fool of myself.
What am I talking about?
Well, here it is: 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.”
I’m sure in your experiences in school… in applying to college… in picking your major… in deciding what you want to do with life, people have told you to make sure you have something to “fall back on.” Make sure you got something to fall back on, honey. But I never understood that concept, having something to fall back on.
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.