Oliver Stone / Filmmaker
I think, more importantly, I couldn’t stand any longer the air of Ivy League superiority and competition. There was a lack, essentially, of humanity ~ a compulsive need to out-do your fellow man. I wanted something gentler, something like I’d seen in Asia, an ability simply to breathe a natural life. So I abandoned school once again, but it was clear this time there was no going back. In fact, I’d failed every single one of my courses. That’s pretty hard to do, 4 out of 4 zeros.
I had no real skills or earning power. I decided I had nothing to lose, so I’d join the Army, specifically the Infantry, and go to the front lines in Vietnam. And if it was intended by the Greek gods, or the monotheistic God from the Bible ~ either way ~ I was putting it on the line. The divine forces would cast their decision, and I’d either live or die.
After 15 months of… let’s say another kind of world, I went back to the US with no idea of what to do and no skills except camping, surviving, hunting, and not sleeping very well ~ all those (coming Home) fantasies died on the return, and my buddies went to other small towns and rarely did we see each other again. This reality, along with something we didn’t know much about at the time, since called PTSD, left us each in some dark holes. People simply didn’t understand because that war was crazy and made no sense. How can you explain it when it makes no sense?
After months of low-level depression, an old school friend who’d graduated from Yale was pursuing a career making low-budget porno films ~ and making money at it; he told me I could actually go to one of these new “film schools”, and I could get 80% of my tuition paid from the GI Bill.
But it was really a vocational school for me. I was older than the others. It was difficult for me to readjust to the mentality. I was quiet and didn’t mingle much. These students were in another world, and they probably looked at me like I was the guy in “Taxi Driver” who ends up blowing up the class.
But I had fun there. I also learned the beginnings of a skill. And then after 6/7 years of professional rejection and writing a lot of speculative scripts, making low-budget films, breaks started coming my way, and I actually made it into the film business with some success. In fact, much to my Father’s inability to think it possible, I actually started to make a living at this film thing.
I think a point to be made of this experience is no matter how dark it gets early, don’t get too down on yourself. You have ~ you may not know them ~ hidden talents, skills, passions. You simply cannot recognize it yet. So listen to the wind. The answer might be blowing right past you... But although I now had a degree and some success, I didn’t really have an education. Learning a trade is not a complete experience. I was a partly educated writer-director who’d never really studied with any rigor history, mathematics, English, science. All I had was curiosity, and thank god for that.
Please don’t ever forget that Edward Snowden was 29 years old when he challenged this system on behalf of us all ~ just a few years older than you.
He’s an avatar for your generation. Do not be cynical and say, ‘Privacy? So what? I have nothing to hide.’ Because when you’re older you might understand what you’re surrendering without knowing it is your greatest secret of all ~ yourself.
* Allen's note ~ See official trailer on Stone's SNOWDEN / Two minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlSAiI3xMh4
And in closing, I’d suggest you take a year off and do nothing! Be a bum ~ or do something you’ve never done before. If you choose nothing, see for yourself if being a lazy person works for you or it bores you. Sit on a bench, walk around, fish. But go to the end of that feeling and find out for yourself. Be a janitor. Clean hotel rooms. Work with your hands. Learn how to plant, grow, cook. Travel to foreign countries second/third class and see how you relate to all kinds people and challenges. Above all, even if you want to make a fortune as quickly as you can, I urge you to break your pattern here and now, and don’t do what you did for 4 years.
So, go in peace, love justice and mercy ~ and do well by this world. Thank you."
See full text / http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/36976-focus-my-commencement-speech-to-the-graduating-class-of-the-university-of-connecticut