Denzel Washington told graduating students to “put God first in everything” in his commencement address at Dillard University in New Orleans on Saturday.
His address covered everything from motivation and discipline, to how to think about money and success, but the underlying theme was dependency on God and gratitude for what God has given you.
The two-time Academy Award-winning actor said: “Everything that you think you see in me, everything that I’ve accomplished, everything that you think I have – and I have a few things – everything I have is by the grace of God… It’s a gift.”
Washington, whose father was a Pentecostal minister, admitted that 40 years ago he was failing at college, when someone gave him a prophecy that he would travel the world and speak to millions.
“I’ve kept God in my life and it’s kept me humble,” Washington added. “I didn’t always stick with him, but he always stuck with me. So stick with him in everything you do.”
His advice to the graduates included giving them permission to “fail big,” and encouraging them to take chances without being afraid to fail.
“Don’t be afraid to think outside the box,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to fail big, to dream big. But remember, dreams without goals are just dreams, and they ultimately fuel disappointment. So have dreams, but have goals.”
He also said that successful people work hard and so they should learn to be disciplined and consistent.
And he spoke about how to think about money, too. “I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried it… they got robbed. It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.”
Instead of finding joy in wealth, he said that joy and success was to be found in helping others.
Concluding with an exhortation reminiscent of a Pentecostal preacher, he said: “I pray that you put your slippers way under the bed tonight, so that in the morning, you have to get on your knees to reach them. And while you’re down there, say thank you for grace, thank you for mercy… thank you for wisdom… thank you for parents, thank you for love … thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity.
“Say thank you in advance for what is already yours. That’s one of the reasons I am where I am today. True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you sent beforehand to indicate that it’s yours already.”