The Harvard graduating class of 2016 got some words of wisdom from Steven Spielberg on Thursday.
The Oscar-winning director gave the 365th commencement address at the Cambridge, Mass.-based university on Thursday afternoon. He opened his address, saying, “I can remember my own college graduation like it was yesterday, probably because it was 14 years ago.”
Spielberg explained that he attended California State University, Long Beach but dropped out of school in favor of an internship at Universal — a choice, he said, that affected his filmmaking: “Up until the 1980s my films are what you could call escapist, but I was in a celluloid bubble because I cut my education short and my world view was limited to what I could dream up in my head and not what the world could teach me.”
He later re-enrolled and, in 2002, he completed the credits that were necessary for a B.A. from CSULB. He joked: “It helped that they gave me a course credit in paleontology for the work I did on Jurassic Park.”
Spielberg has since garnered an impressive list of honorary degrees from schools like Boston University, Yale and the University of Southern California, which rejected the director from its film school when he applied out of high school.
The Saving Private Ryan director, wearing a pair of sneakers, lauded Harvard’s graduating history majors, saying that we shouldn’t “turn away from what’s painful” but rather that we should “examine it and challenge it.”
He went on to discuss his being bullied in grade school for being Jewish and his starting the Shoah Foundation, the USC-based nonprofit that seeks to record testimonies from survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides. He admonished those who persecute anyone on the basis of nation, religion, race, gender or sexuality.
“We are a nation of immigrants — at least for now,” said Spielberg to laughter from the crowd. He warned against nationalist tendencies, adding, “I don’t have to tell a crowd of Red Sox fans that we are wired for tribalism.” He then called on the graduates to fight against such mistreatments through peaceful protests and by voting in the upcoming election.
Facebook COO and Harvard alum Sheryl Sandberg was on hand at the ceremony to act as the chief marshal. Spielberg’s 99-year-old father was also at the ceremony, sitting in one of the front rows, in the Harvard Yard.
“It is my job to create a world that lasts two hours, it is your job to create a world that lasts forever,” said Spielberg as he concluded his speech, wishing each of the graduates their own Hollywood happy ending. “I hope you outrun the T-Rex, catch the criminal and, for your parents’ sake — just like E.T. every now and again — go home!”
Spielberg’s next film, The BFG — based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name — hits theaters on July 1.
Watch Spielberg’s full speech below.