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Dartmouth College alum Shonda Rhimes imparted her wisdom to the school’s class of 2014 with an entertaining commencement address she called, in part, “Some Random Stuff Some Random Alum Who Runs a TV Show Thinks I Should Know Before I Graduate.”
After admitting to how nervous she was giving a speech — “I get this overwhelming feeling of fear. Terror, really. Dry mouth, heart beats superfast, everything gets a little bit slow motion. Like I might pass out. Or die. Or poop my pants or something” — the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal self-deprecatingly quipped that she felt “wildly unqualified to give you advice.”
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“There is no wisdom here,” she said. “So all I can do is talk about some stuff that could maybe be useful to you, from one Dartmouth grad to another. Some stuff that won’t ever show up in a Meredith Grey voice-over or a Papa Pope monologue.”
She said commencement speech-givers usually tell graduates to “dream and dream big” and to not stop dreaming until those dreams become a reality.
“I think that’s crap,” Rhimes said, arguing that only hard work makes dreams come true. “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”
She also told the gradulates that the day after commencement was going to “be the worst day ever for you,” sharing her own story about how she never wanted to leave college and enter the real world.
“What really happens is that, to the rest of the world, you are now at the bottom of the heap,” she said. “Maybe you’re an intern, possibly a low-paid assistant. And it is awful. The real world, it sucked so badly for me. I felt like a loser all of the time. And more than a loser? I felt lost.”
But in spite of this, she urged, “don’t be an a–hole.”
Rhimes also encouraged the graduates to spend some time volunteering and argued that a hashtag is not a form of activism.
“A hashtag is not helping,” she said. “#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 on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.”
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Rhimes also shared a secret about her real answer to the question “How do you do it all?” While she typically mentions something about her organizational skills or the help she gets, her real answer is: “I don’t.”
“Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life,” she said. “If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am 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 on 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.”
Her final advice to the class included such words of encouragement as “be brave, be amazing, be worthy” and “be yourself.”
Watch her speech below (it starts at the 1:41 mark).
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