"In return, I want to offer you a few pieces of advice: try to keep it real. Stay true to what’s best in yourself and to the best of what you’ve experienced here at Vassar. Continue to expose yourself to new ideas. Trust your instincts and think for yourself. Make art, or at least value it. Look for the core of what makes each person human, appreciate the details that make them unique.
Find something that moves you or pisses you off, and do something about it. Put your self out there. Be brave. Be bold. Take action. You have a voice. Speak up, especially when something tries to keep you silent. Take a stand for what’s right. Raise a ruckus and make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and bigger and greater that yourself. Besides, making history is extremely cool.
Hold our elected officials accountable. They work for you. Ask them anything you want. If you don’t, you’re giving up on democracy. Inez Milholland – Vassar class of 1909 – didn’t let people silence her and she didn’t let anyone stop her. She became one of the pivotal leaders of the suffragette movement. If you forget everything else I’ve said here today or if you choose to ignore it, remember Inez and remember to vote. It’s a radical act that’s still legal, and we need to keep it that way.
Speaking from my own experience, I also want to offer a warning: you will, undoubtedly, meet people who will try to shut you up or entice you to compromise your principles in any number of ways. They’ll try to seduce you and distract you with money, power, security and perhaps, most dangerously, a sense of belonging. Don’t let them; it’s just not worth it. One of the biggest threats to our world is the culture of silence and compromise—politicians who compromise their beliefs because they’re scared they’ll piss off their voters and won’t get re-elected, corporate executives who put profits above principles. You can have a conscience and still make money. You can have genuine values and still get elected. You can even make movies that do well at the box office without playing to the lowest common denominator.
And try not to let love silence you. And don’t let it kill you—always wear a condom, for god’s sake. Partner with someone who loves you and loves your voice, who loves the very core of who you are and believes in your dreams, not someone who is hell-bent on changing you."
- excerpt from Samuel L. Jackson's 2004 Vassar College commencement address