From Denzel Washington’s Commencement Address
This is the backstory. I am 78 and fully aware that my clock is ticking. Therefore, I need to act now. Delaying can be deadly to my journey down the rest of my yellow brick road of life.
Case in point. A year and a half ago, I wanted to revisit my family in Myanmar. However, some issues were standing in my way. I had some allergic reaction to something, which was the primary concern. It was not life-threatening, but the medicine that I was taking adversely affected my immune system. I toyed with the idea of delaying my trip a year.
However, I acted. Off I flew to Southeast Asia where my family and I had our family tour together. I have traveled throughout the world, but this journey overseas was the best by far.
I returned home in early January 2020, but COVID-19 soon was traveling all over the world. Americans and the rest of the world spent 2020 hoping that they didn’t catch the coronavirus. As 2021 began, another problem loomed on the horizon. On January 6th, the insurrection in Washington occurred. A month later, Myanmar’s military staged a coup.
Had I not visited my family a year and a half ago, who knows when I would see them again. COVID is still a problem, and Myanmar is teetering on civil war. I started to write an article about my family and the fun that we had together.
I intended the article to be a parable about the importance of living in the now. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and think, “I should have acted.”
As luck would have it, I happened to stumble across Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at U. Pennsylvania in 2011. The following is a photo of Washington addressing that graduating class.
There are three take-aways for me from that speech a decade ago. The first take-way runs parallel to my comment about not being on my deathbed and thinking that I should have acted. Washington’s statement was a lot more visual and vivid than mine.
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. ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life,’ they say. ‘And now we go to the grave together.’ So, I ask you today: How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes?
The second take-away was about failing. “If you don’t fail, you’re not even trying.” Again, I grasped Washington’s warning. It is a mantra of mine. More interestingly, Bobby Kennedy said a similar statement. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
My third take-way was Washington’s observation about how to live life. “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse…I don’t care how much money you have or what level of notoriety you’ve achieved, you can’t take any of it with you.”
I don’t know whether Washington read George Eliot’s novella, Silas Marner, or had to memorize these lines as I did in 12-grade.
In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.
Silas Marner was an old, miser. Until Eppie wandered into his life, he expected that a U-Haul would be needed following the hearse carrying him to the graveyard.
Denzel Washington gave these take-aways. Our mindsets are similar, even though he has a better way with words. Nonetheless, there is one thing that there is a parity between us. We both love blue shirts.
This is Denzel Washington’s commencement address. What are your take-aways?