It’s May, which means that movie and media moguls are working the commencement circuit. Arianna Huffington gave a commencement address at Smith College, while Boston’s own Ben Affleck delivered a rousing fist pump at Brown Sunday in exchange for his honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree–his first, as he never completed college, he revealed. “This is a spectacular honor for me,” he said, noting that his mother was in the audience. “Not only for the education, but now I surpass Matt Damon.” In April, Affleck’s “Good Will Hunting” co-writer Matt Damon accepted the 2013 Harvard Arts Medal.
“The East” producer-writer-star Brit Marling gave the senior convocation at her alma mater, Georgetown University. I can testify that she gives good speech, as she delivered a moving humdinger at one Sundance fundraiser. She sings the praises of her two Georgetown friends and director collaborators, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij. Check out the video below.
Like any strong writer Whedon starts off by grabbing his listeners’ attention:
“And so, what I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die.
This is a good commencement speech because I’m figuring it’s only going to go up from here. It can only get better, so this is good. It can’t get more depressing. You have, in fact, already begun to die. You look great. Don’t get me wrong. And you are youth and beauty. You are at the physical peak. Your bodies have just gotten off the ski slope on the peak of growth, potential, and now comes the black diamond mogul run to the grave. And the weird thing is your body wants to die. On a cellular level, that’s what it wants. And that’s probably not what you want.
I’m confronted by a great deal of grand and worthy ambition from this student body. You want to be a politician, a social worker. You want to be an artist. Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things. That’s it. And that seems like a bit of a contradiction. It doesn’t seem fair. For one thing, we’re telling you, “Go out into the world!” exactly when your body is saying, “Hey, let’s bring it down a notch. Let’s take it down.”
And it is a contradiction. And that’s actually what I’d like to talk to you about. The contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have, and hopefully, I can explain that.
And he sums up this must-read speech with:
And that’s why I’ve been talking only about you and the tension within you, because you are—not in a clichéd sense, but in a weirdly literal sense—the future. After you walk up here and walk back down, you’re going to be the present. You will be the broken world and the act of changing it, in a way that you haven’t been before. You will be so many things, and the one thing that I wish I’d known and want to say is, don’t just be yourself. Be all of yourselves. Don’t just live. Be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it. And have fun.