Weihong Rong / Sun Designer

Actor James Franco speaks to the graduating Class of 2016 at convocation.

May 28, 2016

James Franco: Consider Commencement the ‘Start’ of a Lifetime of Learning

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Actor and director James Franco urged graduates to continue learning and cultivate generosity in his convocation speech to the class of 2016 today.

Franco opened his address — delivered to an audience of over 18,000 attendees — by sharing the struggles he faced in pursuing his dreams.

“My parents said that they would no longer support me if I wasn’t in college, so I got a job at the only place that would hire me —Mcdonald’s,” he said. “At the time, I knew that I wanted to be an actor at any cost.”

Even with a replete academic background and extensive experience attending graduations, Franco said that he “remember[ed] very little from any of [the speeches] except for my high school graduation when Steve Jobs spoke, because his daughter was in my class.”

“He told us before dropping out of Reed, [that] he took a calligraphy class which led to all the different fonts that are now available to Mac users,” Franco said. “So take that as a lesson — learn calligraphy and you too may have a movie made about you starring Michael Fassbender.”

Franco said he reasoned that in order to achieve success he had “better work hard at it [because] no one is going to make me become an actor — just as no one will really make me to do anything that [I] actually want to do.”

“If you want to go after something you love — it’s simple — you have to work at it,” he said.

Franco said he learned this lesson when working as a drive through employee at McDonald’s while simultaneously pursuing his passion for acting.

“If I wasn’t taking orders at the [Mcdonald’s] drive through, I was rehearsing scenes with my classmates — often when I was at the drive through window, I was practicing different accents,” he said.

Franco urged Cornell’s graduates to pursue their dreams and not be afraid of starting over as a beginner.

“Do what you have to do to work on your passions — just don’t get stuck in the side job,” he emphasized. “Don’t be afraid to be beginners. Don’t think that this marks the end of your learning — this should be the start.”

Franco also encouraged the students to “find your gang.”

“Life is better when it is in the company of others,” Franco said. “You will only get better at whatever it is you do if you have a group of similarly engaged people. They will give you feedback and inspire you and hopefully do better work than you and push you to rise to their level.”

He also suggested that trying new things can lead to unexpected discoveries, even if untested ventures seem impractical.

James Franco accepts the Class of 2016 Convocation medallion.

Weihong Rong / Sun Designer

James Franco accepts the Class of 2016 Convocation medallion.

“You don’t have to lose your mind and go to every school like I did,” Franco said. “But be a bit like Steve Jobs — every once in a while try a calligraphy class, because you don’t know where it will lead.”

Franco concluded his address by urging the class of 2016 to give back and “be good.”

“You are the elite of the nation — you’re Ivy League … not everyone gets to have such an education,” he said. “So when you have the chance, when you’re that amazing biochemist or out in Wall Street snorting cocaine on hookers with Leonardo DiCaprio, take a little time to give back.”

“You are the best our country has to offer, so please go out and be generous and be good,” he said.