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10 Things John Waters Said At His Extraordinary Commencement Address That You Need To Live By (With Video)

10 Things John Waters Said At His Extraordinary Commencement Address That You Need To Live By (With Video)

John Waters delivered commencement address for the Rhode Island School of Design’s graduating class of 2015, and was it ever something special. Almost every sentence he uttered could double as a religion, and we are once again in awe of “the prince of puke.” Here’s 10 moments in particular that you definitely should consider, whether you’re a recent college graduate or not. 

On his qualification as their commencement speaker:  “I should say right off that I am really qualified to be your commencement speaker. I was suspended from high school, then kicked out of college in the first marijuana scandal ever on a university campus. I’ve been arrested several times. I’ve been known to dress in ludicrous fashions. I’ve also built a career out of negative reviews, and have been called “the prince of puke” by the press. And most recently a title I’m really proud of: “the people’s pervert.” I am honoured to be here today with my people.”

His attempt at offering inspiration:  “OK, I’m supposed to inspire you. How’s this? Somehow I’ve been able to make a living doing what I love best for 50 years without ever having to get a real job. “But how can you be so disciplined?” friends always ask when I tell them my job is to get up every day at 6 A.M. Monday to Friday and think up insane stuff. Easy! If I didn’t work this hard for myself, I’d have to go work for somebody else. Plus I can go to my office one room away from my bedroom in my own house dressed in my underpants if I want to.”

On rejection and confidence: On “You’re lucky. When I went to school, my teachers discouraged every dream I ever had. I wanted to be the filthiest person alive, but no school would let me. I bet RISD would’ve. You could possibly even make a snuff movie here and get an A+. Hopefully you have been taught never to fear rejection in the workplace. Remember, a no is free. Ask for the world and pay no mind if you are initially turned down. A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say “Get in” and off you go. And then the confidence begins.”

On the need to participate in the creative world if you want to succeed: “Remember: You must participate in the creative world you want to become part of. So what if you have talent? Then what? You have to figure out how to work your way inside. Keep up with what’s causing chaos in your own field. If you’re a visual artist, go see the shows in the galleries that are frantically competing to find the one bad neighbourhood left in Manhattan to open up in. Watch every movie that gets a negative review in the New York Times and figure out what the director did wrong. Read, read, read! Watch people on the streets. Spy, be nosy, eavesdrop.”

On keeping trans-generational social ties: “As you get older, you’ll need youth spies that will keep you abreast of new music that nobody has heard of yet or body-piercing mutilations that are becoming all the rage – even budding sexually transmitted disease you should go to any length to avoid.”

On reinventing yourself as “an insider”: “Today may be the end of your juvenile delinquency, but it should also be the first day of your new adult disobedience. These days, everybody wants to be an outsider, politically correct to a fault. That’s good. I hope you are working to end racism, sexism, ageism, fatism. But is that enough? Isn’t being an outsider sooo 2014? I mean, maybe it’s time to throw caution to the wind, really shake things up, and reinvent yourself as a new version of your most dreaded enemy – the insider. Like I am.”

On how to “sneak attack” the mainstream: “You need to prepare sneak attacks on society. Hairspray is the only really devious movie I ever made. The musical based on it is now being performed in practically every high school in America – and nobody seems to notice it’s a show with two men singing a love song to each other that also encourages white teen girls to date black guys. Pink Flamingos was preaching to the converted. But Hairspray is a Trojan horse: It snuck into Middle America and never got caught. You can do the same thing.”

On humour being the best defence and weapon: “Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humour is always the best defence and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they’ll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid – to you.”

On separatism being for losers: “Refuse to isolate yourself. Separatism is for losers. Gay is not enough anymore. It’s a good start, but I don’t want my memoirs to be in the gay section near true crime at the back of the bookstore next to the bathrooms. No! I want it up front with the best-sellers. And don’t heterosexual kids actually receive more prejudice in art schools today than the gay ones? Things are a-changing. It’s a confusing time.”

On not hating all rich people: “Uh, don’t hate all rich people. They’re not all awful. Believe me, I know some evil poor people, too. We need some rich people: Who else is going to back our movies or buy our art? I’m rich! I don’t mean money-wise. I mean that I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich. And not being around assholes should be the goal of every graduate here today.”

On your mission as a contemporary artist: “Contemporary art’s job is to wreck what came before. Is there a better job description than that to aspire to? Here’s another trigger warning, and pardon me for swearing: Go out in the world and fuck it up beautifully. Design clothes so hideous that they can’t be worn ironically. Horrify us with new ideas. Outrage outdated critics. Use technology for transgression, not lazy social living. Make me nervous!”

And finally: “Count your blessings. You got through college. You didn’t commit suicide, O.D., or have a nervous breakdown, and let’s remember the ones who did. It’s time to get busy. It’s your turn to cause trouble – but this time in the real world, and this time from the inside.”

Watch the whole glorious speech below:

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