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Shonda Rhimes’ Dartmouth Commencement Speech: “Dreamers Often End Up Living in the Basements of Relatives”

Shonda Rhimes' Dartmouth Commencement Speech: "Dreamers Often End Up Living in the Basements of Relatives"

This past Sunday, Shonda Rhimes doled out some tough love — and shared a few great anecdotes — at the commencement ceremony at Dartmouth University, her alma mater. Her overall message was simple: Dreaming is nothing; doing is everything. Rhimes also revealed her ignominious start in adulthood, her failed emulations of Toni Morrison, and why she wants to model working motherhood for her three daughters. 

Below are some highlights from the speech. 

On dreamers: 

“A lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful, engaged people? Are busy doing. The dreamers, they stare at the sky and they make plans and they hope and they think and they talk about it endlessly. And they start a lot of sentences with ‘I want to be’ or ‘I wish.’ ‘I want to be a writer.’ ‘I wish I could travel around the world.'”

On her own experience as a dreamer: 

“Not once when I was here in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League did I say to myself, ‘Self, I want to write TV.’ You know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be Nobel Prize Winning Author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue sky-ed it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I was dreaming, I was living in my sister’s basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives, FYI.”

My dreams did not come true. But I worked really hard. And I ended up building an empire out of my imagination. So my dreams? Can suck it.”

On finally meeting Toni Morrison: 

“Years later, I had dinner with Toni Morrison. All she wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy. That never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself.”

On her bad reaction to graduating from Dartmouth: 

“Here’s where I am going to embarrass myself and make you all feel better about yourselves. I literally lay on the floor of my dorm room and cried while my mother packed my room. I refused to help her. Like, refused. Like hell no, I won’t go. I non-violent protested leaving here. Like, went limp like a protestor, only without the chanting — it was really pathetic.” 

On hashtag activism: 

“A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

“Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing into your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show.”

On how she has “three TV shows at work [and] three daughters at home”: 

“If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I’m probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a script I was supposed to rewrite. If I’m accepting a prestigious award, I’m missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy

“If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade off. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel one hundred percent okay, you never get your sea legs, you are always a little nauseous.”

Why it’s important for her to model working motherhood for her children: 

“I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. 

“And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get to write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person — and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn’t want them to know the me that didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who wasn’t doing.”

The 23-minute speech runs from approximately 1:41:20 to 2:04:20 below.

Read the full speech via Medium.

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