NEW ORLEANS, La. — Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington urged graduates at New Orleans’ Dillard University to “put God first,” stating that in his own life, he knows that all he has achieved is by the grace of God.
Washington, 60, known for his roles in films such as “Glory,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” “Remember the Titans” and “Training Day,” presented a brief 11-minute commencement speech to students that often focused on faith.
He began by sharing one of his own life lessons: that he cannot solely take the credit for his place in life. Washington recalled making a comment to his mother years ago about how big he had become, putting emphasis on the “I.”
“She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there,'” he recalled. “If you only knew how many people have been praying for you.”
Washington also shared during the speech that has come a long way as he was flunking college with a 1.7 GPO. He remembered sitting in his mother’s beauty parlor one day during his college days and a woman that was getting her hair done began to focus on him and prophesy that he would “travel the world and speak to millions of people.”
“I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life, and He’s kept me humble,” he told graduates. “I didn’t always stick with [God], but He stuck with me. So stick with Him in everything you do.”
Washington urged those gathered to make God the center of their life.
“Put God first,” he declared emphatically, evoking applause. “Everything 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. Understand that. It’s a gift.”
But the actor also exhorted graduates to remember that material goods aren’t everything.
“You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse,” he stated. “I don’t care how much money you make. You can’t take it with you.”
“I pray that you put your slippers way under the bed tonight, so that when you get up in the morning, and you have to get on your knees to reach them,” Washington said. “And while you’re down there, say thank you. Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents, thank you for love, thank you for kindness, thank you for humility, thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity. Say thank you in advance for what’s already yours.”
He encouraged graduates that the desire of their heart—if it is for good—is given to them by God to help others.
“True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you to sent before hand to indicate that it’s yours already,” Washington stated. “When you get it, reach back [and] pull someone else up. Each one, teach one. Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.”
Washington, the son of a Pentecostal preacher, told GQ Magazine in 2012 that he reads the Bible each day. He also stated in 1999 that he has contemplated at times whether he is called to preach.
“A part of me still says, ‘Maybe, Denzel, you’re supposed to preach. Maybe you’re still compromising,’” he said. “I’ve had an opportunity to play great men and, through their words, to preach. I take what talent I’ve been given seriously, and I want to use it for good.”
Photo: Paul Rudman