Steven Spielberg’s Harvard University commencement speech Thursday was as diverse as his filmography. The director threw in dashes of comedy, thoughtfulness, and inspiration.
After some self-effacing anecdotes — like how he didn’t graduate college until 2002 or that he didn’t regret making the panned 1941 — the 69-year-old director turned his scope to the past, so the graduates could better face the future.
“I look to history not to be didactic — that’s just a bonus — but because the past is filled with the greatest stories that have ever been told,” Spielberg said. “Heroes and villains are not literary constructs, but they are the heart of all history.”
Spielberg, who founded the USC Shoah Foundation — which documents the Holocaust and other genocides in the world — went on to detail the “monsters” in the world and their many forms of discrimination, all tied together by one similar thread.
“There’s no difference between anyone who is discriminated against … it is all big one ‘hate,'” he said. “To me, the only answer to more hate is more humanity. We have to replace fear with curiosity.”
Spielberg added, “We’ll find the ‘we’ by connecting with each other and by believing that we’re members of the same tribe, and by feeling empathy for every soul,” before playing to the audience: “Even Yalies.”
In terms of his films reflecting his own internal change, Spielberg described the turn from his usual brand of blockbusters — “escapist,” he described them — into more serious works, like The Color Purple, by listening to his intuition.
“I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscious. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscious shouts, ‘Here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘Here’s what you could do,'” he said. “Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do; nothing will define your character more than that.”
Spielberg concluded by bringing the theme of hope and his movies by sending off the class with “a true, Hollywood-style happy ending.”
“Today, you start down the path of becoming the generation on which the next generation stands. I’ve imagined many possible futures in my films, but you will determine the actual future, and I hope that it’s filled with justice and peace,” he said. “I hope you outrun the T. rex, catch the criminal, and for your parents’ sake, maybe every now and then — just like E.T. — go home.”
See Spielberg’s speech in full below.