Annette Bening has a message for the Point Foundation’s class of 2020: Keep changing, keep speaking up, and don’t forget to vote.
The veteran actress delivered a brief but impactful keynote commencement address presented online Tuesday as part of the Point Honors New York virtual gala. The event served to spotlight the graduating class of 2020 while raising money for the Point Foundation, the national LGBTQ scholarship fund billed as the largest provider of higher education scholarships for study in the U.S.
Bening said she was honored to have been asked by the foundation to “join the chorus of voices” offering congratulations to the grads. She has experience, too. Bening called herself a “proud graduate” of both Arizona’s Mesa Community College and San Francisco State University before launching into her advice and encouragement. She did so by quoting famed theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman.
“In the words of Professor Richard Feynman, I’d say study what you love in the most original, irreverent and undisciplined way possible,” said Bening. “And don’t forget, you’re under no obligation to remain the same person that you were a year ago, a month ago or even a day ago. You are here to create yourself, continuously.”
She then acknowledged the current climate of political, racial and economic unrest as the United States faces a variety of pandemics due to racial injustice, COVID-19 and the worst recession since the Great Depression. “You’re coming of age during a time of foundational change, whether that applies to systemic racism or gender- and sexuality-based discrimination. I encourage you to speak truth to power in whatever way feels right to you,” said Bening, mother to a transgender son. “Please keep your doors of perception open to the wonders of the world, and don’t forget to vote.”
Bening’s comments were included in a sleek virtual production produced by LA-based JJLA that allowed guests to view at their leisure. Once clicking “enter,” the production brought guests down a red carpet and inside the Point Honors Hall where a brief respite included a stop inside the Point Honors Lounge. There, actor, writer and comedian Michael Urie delivered welcome remarks, which were followed by the main attraction inside the Point Honors Atrium, set up as a typical gala affair with dinner tables and a stage.
Guests then got a chance to select from a variety of content from the program, including remarks from executive director and CEO Jorge Valencia, featured scholar Donna Scaffidi, a performance from Jagged Little Pill star Lauren Patten (who performed her favorite track from the show, “Hand in My Pocket”), remarks from Javier Muñoz, and thoughts from the graduating Point scholars.
Ahead of Bening’s remarks, an introduction featured Tamron Hall, Jason Collins, Steven Canals, Don Lemon, Judith Light and James Williams, the latter of whom is co-chair of the Point Foundation’s board of directors. Other supporters of the event included presenting sponsor Wells Fargo, principal sponsors Janssen Infectious Diseases and Lord Abbett.
For his part, Valencia also noted the atmosphere in the world at the moment, calling it “surreal” as well as challenging to deal with a pandemic, racial injustice and inequality all at once. “Unfortunately, none of these things have been handled with the kind of mature leadership that this situation requires,” he said. “With all of this uncertainty swirling around us, there is one constant that has not changed and that is the steadfast belief that all of us at Point Foundation have in our scholars’ ability to make a difference.”