Dame Julie Andrews, Spring 2013

Hallo Buffalo People!

Good morning and thank you for welcoming me as you have THIS EARLY IN THE MORNING!!! I had a very late evening. It started out with a lovely dinner on Pearl Street, and even though it was not my 21st birthday, I made my way to The Pub to kiss the buffalo (why not?) and then I segued to The Sink on The Hill where I saw some of you this morning. You all have such stamina. How good does a Starbucks latte with an extra shot of espresso sound right now?

I am so pleased to be here. This is my first visit to Boulder and it is truly breathtaking. As I was driving in from the airport I was looking at these lovely hills. I wanted to step out of the car and walk over to a grassy knoll and make my signature turn from The Sound of Music then I saw “Ralphie” grazing in the grass and he did not look pleased to see me, so I thought better of it.

Actually, I should be careful referring to Ralphie as a “he.” As I understand it, Ralphie is really a she playing a he which pleases me no end. In “Victor/”Victoria” (for those of you who have not seen the movie or Broadway musical), I played a character that was a she, playing a he, playing a she. Clearly, Ralphie and I can relate!

Chancellor DiStefano, thank you for your lovely introduction and together with President Bruce Benson, Dean James Williams (our Graduation Marshall this morning) and The Regents, Administrators, Educators and staff of the University of Colorado, Boulder, thank you for all that you do. Also, my heartfelt appreciation to The Senior Class Council, its President, Sosi (So-See) Papazian and Commencement Chair, Erica Rozbruch,  for inviting me to attend today.

This is a world-class university that is providing a world-class education. Someone mentioned to me as I was preparing my remarks that CU is the best public “Ivy League School” in the country incredible minds extraordinary professors and educators cutting edge research .

There is a lovely graduate among you today by the name of Molly whom I have known very well since she was a little girl. Together with her parents, I have watched her flourish here and become an incredible human being. CU has helped weave the fabric of who she is today and what she will become tomorrow. Knowing her as I do, I believe she represents all of you.

To those students who are here today without a parent (or parents), or missing loved ones due to events beyond their control, please know that everyone here is celebrating and honoring you also, and your accomplishments. As a community, we all salute you. (APPLAUD STUDENTS)

I’ve been thinking about today, and what I could say to you. It suddenly occurred to me that one of the last speeches you will hear in college will be this one. That scared me half to death. I mean, what can I tell you? I never finished high school I never, sadly, attended college. As I youngster, I was traveling the length and breadth of the British Isles, singing my head off in the Music Halls—a theater brat, with a freaky 4 1/2 octave range. You might assume that after a life in theater and film, I wouldn’t be nervous in a situation like this, but I can assure you that I am or was, before your very warm welcome.

Today is about celebration, but despite that, you might just also be feeling a little nervous—and, perhaps even fearful. Here you are you’ve been safely nestled in these mountains for the past few years. You’ve had amazing mentors guiding your way through the best possible education. And now, you stand on the threshold of the next phase of your life.

Some of you may know what lies ahead of you; perhaps some of you haven’t made a decision yet. Whatever the case, this is the first of many transitions you will likely encounter in your lifetime. Believe me, feeling nervous is par for the course.

I remember saying once to my husband, Blake, on the eve of my return to Broadway after a 35 years absence, “You know, I’m really feeling VERY frightened about this” and I began to tear up. He simply replied, “Darling, did you actually expect to feel anything else?” I remembered—yet again—that fear is a part of life. The trick is to recognize it and then press on anyway. In fact, the REAL TRICK is to stop focusing on oneself and start focusing on others. There was a time in my late 20s when I worried all the time what audiences thought (“will they like me?” “am I up to par?, etc.”)—and it suddenly dawned on to me that everyone in the audience had paid good money to come see a show they really wanted to see, and possibly, they were there after a day of dealing with a lot of stress. Maybe it was tax time, perhaps someone had a family member who was ill, or had a fight with a loved one—I could think of a hundred scenarios. I realized that I was in a position to brighten their day to make a difference to give them 3 hours of surcease, of transcendence, and hopefully, joy. From that moment on, I began to develop a mindset of giving. I stopped looking inward, I began to grow up and I started looking outward, with an eye toward making a difference wherever and whenever I could.

Today, I invite YOU to start looking at life the same way.

There are so many opportunities for giving in this world. Don’t engage in random acts of kindness, engage in planned acts of kindness. There are at-risk children who need to be mentored. There are people who go hungry every day, there are those who are infirm and have no one to look after them. Some have experienced a paralyzing loss. Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world YOU want to live in.

It won’t always be easy. Whatever you embrace, there will be moments of doubt, moments of darkness, moments of adversity. And when adversity strikes, well—I can offer you a little trick for that as well. Actually, it’s not mine. I used to know the great English author, T.H. White. Among other things, he wrote “The Once and Future King,” (four novels in one book that encompassed his adaptation of the Arthurian legends). That vast tome became the base of the show “Camelot,” in which I was fortunate enough to play the role of Queen Guinevere on Broadway. T. H. White’s message—Tim’s message—is one I carry with me wherever I go and I would love to share it with you today. In “The Sword in the Stone,” (book one of this magnificent quartet), Merlin says the following about adversity to young King Arthur: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” After four years of intense learning, this may be the last thing you want to hear today. But I am talking about becoming a life-long learner. When adversity hits go out and learn something.

Adversity hit me big-time when I lost my ability to sing due to a botched throat operation. It was devastating for me to lose the very thing that had sustained me my entire life. It was my identity. My daughter, Emma, and I had just begun writing a children’s book together, having a particularly low moment one day, bemoaning my fate, and she said, “Mum you have simply found a new way of using your voice.” Suddenly the weight of sadness fell from my shoulders and I embraced this new learning experience wholeheartedly. Since then, we have written 30 books together for children of all ages, packaging them whenever we can with music and visual delights—and several of them have since been, or are currently being, developed into projects for theater, filmed entertainment and symphony. Adversity paved the way to a new career for me that I never dreamed of.

Which just happens to bring me to the last topic I’d love to share with you today, the thing I believe will enrich your lives beyond measure for evermore…. and that is the arts. Some of you will do profound things in the fields of science or medicine, some in the area of law or philosophy or government service, others in the area of technology or engineering and hopefully some of you in the arts that wonderful sandbox I have had the joy and opportunity to play in for most of my life.

Wherever your path may take you, I urge you to make the arts a meaningful part of your life in some way. They are food for the soul. They revitalize us. They transport us, inspire us, shape us, humble us. They connect us worldwide in ways that nothing else can. They are the best common denominator for the proliferation of good in the world. They are the mirror with which we can view humanity and all of its complexities.

The esteemed author, Katherine Anne Porter, wrote: “The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their nature and their shapes and their uses survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; and they outlive governments and creeds and societies, even the very civilizations that produced them. They cannot be destroyed all together because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.”

Those beautiful words don’t mean that the arts are invincible. As with so many things in our world today, they are vulnerable—and they are often the first thing to go when the budget axe falls.

I implore you to vigorously support and advocate for the arts for the rest of your lives. I am a very proud Board member of The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and in that capacity I am active in our outreach programs. I challenge you to do the same. Be a consumer of the arts. Attend things you never thought you would ever go to in your wildest imagination—the ballet, opera, your local philharmonic, musicals, community theatre, concerts in the park, museums. Encourage others, particularly the youth in your communities, to do the same. The gifts and the rewards are priceless.

So, those are my thoughts today as you experience this wonderful rite of passage. You all have such bright futures in front of you. You have been blessed to attend this extraordinary institution. You have been given the tools for successes yet to be realized. Take your good fortune and run with it. Use those tools wisely as you embark upon this next chapter of your lives. Keep learning as you go. Acknowledge that there will be fear and adversity, and then go out and kick butt! Make the arts part of your life. Tell the truth be present for and compassionate toward others. Live lightly on this earth and give generously. Remember that we are all Citizens of this world. There is awesome power in accountability. Leave every place you go, everything you touch, a little better for your having been there. Above all, keep your integrity in this way you will demonstrate you can be trusted, you’re ready for stewardship and the world will respond in-kind.

Congratulations, dear students. These hills, today, are truly alive, with the graduating class of 2013.