not sure who spoke at my Boston University graduation five years ago.
Though I can't remember why I skipped the ceremony, my guess is that
it either had to do with my fear of robes or a longstanding suspicion
that commencement speeches are just opportunities for pols and
benefactors to mount bullshit pulpits.
all good, though, as film director Spike Lee last night delivered
nearly three hours of harsh enlightenment for several hundred
students and guests at BU's Metcalf Hall. It's the only graduation
speech I ever needed – a tremendous affirmation of life lessons
I've begun to learn in my non-stop Ramen-grubbing multi-media hustle.
when you chose your major it was for something you love doing,”
said Spike. “A lot of motherfuckers who have a whole lot of money
have killed themselves...A lot of people are just existing; with the
exception of their kids, they have no joy...I didn't become a
filmmaker because I wanted to become rich or famous. I did it because
I love making films.”
Lisa Simmons from The Color of Film Collaborative (the event was
co-sponsored by the Roxbury International Film Festival) noted, Spike walks the
walk. He's dropped at least one new, thought-provoking movie nearly
every year for two decades, and has left his 40 Acres and a Mule
stamp on dozens of additional projects. Most importantly, he's done
so with an incomparable independent gusto.
course, Spike's interests span far beyond his own craft. Now the
father of a teenage girl, he has some new ideological adversaries to
add onto his pile of political enemies and pro sports rivals.
“Reality shows are going to ruin civilization,” he said. “They
have young peoples' minds fucked up...That shit is staged like a
knows more than most about the modern artist struggle, and that the
promise of instant fame is nonsensical if not culturally damaging. It
took him nearly a decade to graduate from film student to filmmaker,
getting his break in 1986 when “She's Gotta Have It” grossed $8.5
million on a $175,000 budget. Looking back, he can't bare to watch
his debut feature, but the process through which he made it happen
remains an integral memory.
and over, Spike stressed that there's no roadmap for success –
particularly for those of us who eschew cubicle-bound aspirations. In
his case, small and large victories came from a combination of
education (at Morehouse and later NYU film school), determination,
and constant encouragement (and financing) from dedicated family
members, who pushed Spike to work “ten times harder” than his
that said, Spike did luck into having grown up in an era ripe with
camera-worthy hysteria. He got his first Super 8 in 1977, and spent
the ensuing summer taping everything from the genesis of hip-hop to
the frenzy cast throughout New York as a result of David Berkowitz
and his demanding canine neighbor. Extraordinary circumstances plus
extraordinary personalities equal extra-extraordinary potential, and
he met the challenge.
were also smaller revelations packed in Spike's vignettes: he
considers some contemporary hip-hop thuggery to be genocidal; the
title for “Do the Right Thing” came before the script; and he
can't stand when cats leave the stickers on their New Era fitted
hats. While that last one is ironic coming from a guy who helped
popularize spandex undershorts, his words, on everything from
blaxploitation to gentrification, were on the whole didactic if not
essential inspirational listening.
a Q&A session and some autograph signing, Spike joined a small
group of BU folks and community leaders for a nearby dinner
reception, where he stepped directly to me in my Mets hat (from which
I'd removed the sticker minutes earlier in expecting this exact
moment to transpire). Only then, I'm afraid, did Spike offer wisdom
that I hope turns out to be untrue. Standing there in a Yankees
hoodie with a matching cap, he suggested that I scrap all
championship hopes for the near future. So just imagine his response
when I told him that I'm trying to become a Sox fan.