Full Transcript: Natalie Portman Harvard Commencement Speech 2015

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman is a film actress, producer, writer, and director with dual Israeli and American citizenship.

Here is the full transcript (Edited version) of Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman’s commencement speech at Harvard on May 27, 2015.

Listen to the MP3 audio here: Natalie Portman Harvard Commencement Speech2015

Natalie Portman – Speech TRANSCRIPT

Hello, Class of 2015.

I am so honored to be here today. Dean Khurana, faculty, parents, and most especially graduating students, thank you so much for inviting me.

The Senior Class Committee, it’s genuinely one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been asked to do. I have to admit primarily because I can’t deny it as it was leaked in the WikiLeaks release of the Sony hack, that when I was invited, I replied, and I directly quote my own email, “Wow! This is so nice! I’m going to need some funny ghost writers. Any ideas?”

This initial response, now blessedly public was from the knowledge that at my class day we were lucky enough to have Will Ferrell as class day speaker, and that many of us hungover, or even freshly high, mainly wanted to laugh.

So I have to admit that today even 12 years after graduation, I’m still insecure about my own worthiness. I have to remind myself today you’re here for a reason. Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999 when you guys were, to my continued shock and horror, still in kindergarten.

I felt like there had been some mistake that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth, I would have to prove I wasn’t just a dumb actress.

So I start with an apology. This won’t be very funny. I’m not a comedian. And I didn’t get a ghost writer. But I am here to tell you today Harvard is giving you all diplomas tomorrow. You are here for a reason.

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Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values. But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.

The other day I went to an amusement park with my soon-to-be 4-year-old son. And I watched him play arcade games. He was incredibly focused, throwing his ball at the target. Jewish mother that I am, I skipped 20 steps and was already imagining him as a major league player with what is his aim and his arm and his concentration.

But then I realized that when he won, he was playing to trade in his tickets for the crappy plastic toys. The prize was much more exciting than the game to get it.

I, of course, wanted to urge him to take joy and the challenge of the game, the improvement upon practice, the satisfaction of doing something well, and even feeling the accomplishment when achieving the game’s goals. But all of these aspects were shaded by the little 10-cent plastic men with sticky stretchy blue arms that adhere to the walls. That — that was the prize.

In a child’s nature, we see many of our own innate tendencies. I saw myself in him and perhaps you do, too. Prizes serve as false idols everywhere, prestige, wealth, fame, power. You’ll be exposed to many of these, if not all.

Of course, part of why I was invited to come to speak today beyond my being a proud alumna is that I’ve recruited some very coveted toys in my life, including a not so plastic, not so crappy one: an Oscar.

So we bump up against a common trope I think of the commencement address people who have achieved a lot telling you that the fruits of the achievement are not always to be trusted. But I think that contradiction can be reconciled and is in fact instructive. Achievement is wonderful when you know why you’re doing it. And when you don’t know, it can be a terrible trap.

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