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Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington wowed Dillard Univesity 6 years ago with this stunning commencement speech, and the internet keeps playing it over and over again! With 29 million views, the famous actor encourages students to put God first, work hard, take risks, give back, and thank God in advance for the things he has put in their hearts to do. 

Put God First. Washington relates an experience at his mother’s “beauty parlor” where he met a woman who gave him a prophecy that he would travel the world and speak to millions of people. The encouraging word came at one of the lowest points in his life – he had flunked out of college with a 1.7 GPA!  “The most important thing is what she taught me and told me that day has stayed with me ever since,” related Washington. I’ve been protected, directed, and I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life and it kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with him but he’s always stuck with me. So stick with him, in everything you do.”

Fail big. Washington encouraged the crowd of graduates to take risks and not be afraid of failure. “I try to give myself a goal every day. Have goals. Understand to achieve these goals, you must apply discipline and consistency, every day, not just on Tuesday and then miss a few days. Every day you have to plan, every day. We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan. Hard work works. Working really hard is what successful people do. 

Give back. Next, Washington encouraged students to give back and contribute to others and their success, because you can’t take anything with you. “You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you.” It’s not about how much money you have though, it’s about being strategic and impactful with the time, talent, and treasure you’ve been given.

“It’s not how much money you have, it’s what you do with what you have. The most selfish thing you can do in this world is helping someone else. Why is it selfish? Because of the gratification, the good feeling you get from helping someone else. “That’s where the joy is, that’s where the success is.”

Thank God. “Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, wisdom, parents, kindness humility. Say thank you in advance for what’s already yours. 

Then, Washington gave the secret of his faith and the impact it’s made on his success.

“True desire in the heart, for anything good, is God’s proof to you sent beforehand to indicate it’s yours already”

“It’s one of the reasons I am where I am today.”

“Anything you want good, you can have. So claim it, work hard to get it, when you get it, reach back, pull someone else up. Each one, teach one. Don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”

Take a listen here, it’s worth the 8 minutes many times over:

Denzel Washington on putting God first 


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THRiVE! covers good news, inspiring stories, and faith at work.

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