Most of Robert De Niro’s iconic roles are foul-mouthed, often murderous men, and last week De Niro seized an opportunity to channel a bit of that attitude into his keynote speech to this year’s graduating class at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. You can watch it here.
“A new door is opening for you — a door to a lifetime of rejection. It’s inevitable,” he said, telling students that they have to keep working and keep fighting if they want to have a career in the arts. Considering the amount of money Tisch students and their parents drop on their education, the Oscar winner’s words may have felt a bit too caustic. But De Niro, with the best intentions and an acerbic sense of humor, told students what they probably needed to hear:
There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best, it’s okay. Did you get straight As in school? If you did, good for you, congratulations. But in the real world, you’ll never get straight As again.
He also emphasized that rejection isn’t personal and that collaboration is essential to surviving in that dreaded “real world”:
“Rejection might sting, but my feeling is that often, it has very little to do with you. When you’re auditioning or pitching, the director or producer or investor may have someone different in mind, that’s just how it is. That happened recently when I was auditioning for the role of Martin Luther King in Selma. Which was too bad because I could’ve played the hell out of that part — I felt it was written for me! But the director had something different in mind, and she was right. It seems the director is always right.”
When it comes to legendary commencement addresses, De Niro’s speech might not reach David Foster Wallace territory, but it’s still very quotable and worth the watch. After all, it’s not every day you get to hear Robert De Niro tell you you’re fucked, though he added, “The good news is that’s not a bad place to start.”