Home » Denzel Washington’s Famous Fall Forward Speech (Full Transcript)

Denzel Washington’s Famous Fall Forward Speech (Full Transcript)

But after the first verse, the director cuts me off: “Thank you. Thank you very much, you’ll be hearing from me.”

I assumed I didn’t get the job.

But the next part of the audition, he called me back. The next part of the audition is the acting part. I figure, I can’t sing, but I know I can act.

So they paired me with this guy and again I didn’t know about musical theater. In musical theater it’s big, so they can reach everyone all the way in the back. And I am more from a realistic naturalistic kind of acting where you actually talk to the person next to you.

So I got to know what my line was. My line was, “Well, hand me the cup.”

His line was: “Well, I will hand you the cup, my dear. The cup will be there to be handed to you.”

I said OK. “Should I give you the cup back?”

Yes, he said, give it back to me, because you know that is my cup, that it should be given back to me.

I didn’t get the job.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t quit. I didn’t fall back.

I walked out of there to prepare for the next audition, and the next audition, and the next one. I prayed and I prayed, but I continued to fail, and failed, and failed.

But it didn’t matter. Because you know what? There is an old saying: You hang around a barbershop long enough — sooner or later you will get a haircut.

So you will catch your break. And I did catch a break.

Last year I did a play called Fences on Broadway and I won a Tony Award. And I didn’t have to sing for it, by the way.

And here’s the kicker—it was at the Court Theater, the same theater where I failed that first audition 30 years prior.

The point is, and I will pick up the pace… the point is every graduate here today has the training and the talent to succeed. But do you have guts to fail?

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Here’s my second point about failure:

If you don’t fail… you’re not even trying.

My wife told me this great expression: “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.”

Les Brown, a motivational speaker, made an analogy about this. He says, “Imagine you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. They say “We came to you because you could have brought us to life,” they say.  “And now we have to go to the grave together.”

So I ask you today: How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes?

You invested a lot in your education. And people have invested in you. And let me tell you, the world needs your talents. Man, does it ever.

I just got back from Africa like two days ago, so I am rambling with a jetlag. I just got back from South Africa, it’s a beautiful country, but there are places with terrible poverty that need help. And Africa is just the tip of the iceberg. The Middle East needs your help. Japan needs your help. Alabama needs your help. Tennessee need your help. Louisiana needs your help. Philadelphia needs your help.

The world needs a lot—and we need it from you, the young people.

So you got to get out there. You got to give it everything you’ve got—whether it’s your time, your talent, your prayers, or your treasures.

Because remember this: You’ll never see a U-haul behind a hearse. You can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried it—and all they got was robbed!

So the question: What are you going to do with what you have? And I’m not talking how much you have.

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Some of you are business majors. Some of you are theologians, nurses, sociologists. Some of you have money. Some of you have patience. Some of you have kindness. Some of you have love. Some of you have the gift of long-suffering.

Whatever it is… whatever your gift is. What are you going to do with what you have?

Now here’s my last point about failure:

Sometimes it’s the best way to figure out where you’re going. Your life will never be a straight path.

I began at Fordham University as a pre-med student. I took a course called “Cardiac Morphogenesis.” I couldn’t it, I couldn’t say it… and I couldn’t pass it.

Then I decided to go pre-law. Then journalism. And with no academic focus, my grades took off in their own direction: down.

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