“An Actor’s Own Words” by John Lithgow

From Harvard Magazine (picture from The Boston Globe):

Lithgow Mr. President, faculty, graduates, families, and friends, good afternoon and thank you for the honor of addressing you all today. This speech is a major event in my own personal history but an interesting little footnote in Harvard’s history as well: I am the first professional actor to speak at a Harvard Commencement. Notice that I have specified “professional” actor, since I am sure that, as in all walks of life, there has been plenty of play-acting at this dais over the years.

But wisdom from an actor? Are you kidding? If I were a wise man I never would have gone into the acting profession. Rather than presuming to pass down wisdom, I have decided to think of my address as a friendly and anecdotal conversation with the Harvard College Class of 2005. Thirty-eight years ago, I was one of you, sitting with my classmates and listening to a speech. I am going to touch on a few episodes in my picaresque journey from down there to up here, and I leave it to you to root out any wisdom therein. I’ll get to the adventures in a moment, but I will lead with the lessons. Basically they boil down to four succinct phrases:

Be creative.

Be useful.

Be practical.

Be generous.

Simple as that.

And now for the adventures.

I actually had two Harvard Educations. The first one concluded on the day I that graduated. Shortly thereafter, I launched myself into the acting game where, for the next 20 years, I virtually kept my Harvard degree a secret. Somehow it never seemed to come in all that handy when I was auditioning for a soap opera or a potato-chip commercial. My second Harvard education began when I was invited back into the fold, in 1989. In another example of Harvard recklessness, I was asked to run for the Board of Overseers, presumably to redress the fact that no one from the world of the Arts had served on the Board since the poet Robert Frost [’01, Litt.D. ’37] in the 1930s.

More here.

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