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.
Here’s what I mean:
Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career — the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs.
Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t either, because 1,001 was the light bulb.
Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks. And I’m sure you’ve probably heard that before.
But I want to talk about why it’s so important.
I’ve got three reasons and then you can pick up your iPhones.
First… you will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. That’s probably not a traditional message for a graduation ceremony.
But, hey, I’m telling you—embrace it. Because it’s inevitable.
And I should know: In the acting business, you fail all the time. Early in my career, I auditioned for a part in a Broadway musical. A perfect role for me, I thought—except for the fact that I can’t sing.
So I’m in the wings, I am about to go on stage but the guy in front of me is singing like Pavarotti and I am just shrinking getting smaller and smaller…
So I come out with my little sheet music and it was “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations, that’s what I came up with.
So I hand it to the accompanist, and she looks at it and looks at me and looks at the director, so I start to sing and they’re not saying anything. I think I must be getting better, so I start getting into it.