Day 25: Oliver Stone gives a commencement speech to his high school alma mater

One of my aim’s with RadUncle is creating an incubator for “change” for “growth” for “self awareness” for “acceptance”

A big part of my personal push seems to be naturally slanted toward the hero’s journey and the becoming of yourself. I see life as a “MIRACLE” to just get her to this life is a “Miracle” it was you against about a Billion other sperm that where competing for your mama’s egg and you made it. That makes you the RadOne and I’m quite sure that it was the ultimate journey to get to this experience.

I look at Oliver Stone as a human being that has done a lot of self introspection. His Dad was a New York Jew and his Mom was a French Catholic. He grew up going to France, he speaks French fluently. He went to Yale then dropped out and then dropped out again. He enlisted for combat duty in Vietnam was a decorated soldier. After Vietnam he got his film degree and then he barely survived for years but he never gave up on his passion, his dreams, his self-education.

Today he’s a Buddhist and one of the greatest film directors that we have had. He is a controversial person that challenges power, governments motivates and men’s desires. Oliver Stone is a unique person that has had an amazing story. Here’s a recent speech he gave to the prep school that he went to back in the day.



My Hill School Commencement Address in Full By Oliver Stone

June 28, 2013 at 10:40am

So much hope!  So many dreams!  Are here gathered on this lawn in your young faces, as well as in the older expressions of your parents and teachers, happy for you, and fearful as well. At every commencement whether WWI, the depression, WWII, and in the 70years since, they always say the world has never been in such jeopardy before.  This may be so, or it may not be so, but we will not know the answer until it is upon us.

They said of us 1960s baby boomers, ‘never had so many looked upon so bright a lifetime of prosperity.’  But—within a few years of our departure from school—by 1970—with the Vietnam War taking this country to new lows of disgrace and despair, the promise of a better America for all began to seriously recede.  For those blessed, the new world would bring greater and greater riches, yet with it the uneasy feeling that the gap between the successful and the forgotten had grown too extravagant, too polarizing for our own good.

When I was here, all I wanted to do was to be ‘accepted,’not to stand out, or to be controversial. The conventional narrative of our American history, our central and moral beliefs sufficed.  I didn’t want to be thrown out of here like the dozen or so of our more difficult classmates who were expelled during those four years. This place was scary.  You did not deviate, and if so, you paid the price.  I lived to endure—the long cold winters, the grim food of those days, more Charles Dickens than you might believe, the closed weekends, the endless hours of study, the casual cruelty of cliques, the sting of failure in the classroom and the athletic field.  I was undersized, but I grew.  I was a fair athlete, but I applied myself and grew better.  I was a late bloomer,as they say.  But in the end, I hated The Hill more than loved it.

It took me years to appreciate this school and what it had done for me.  I so loved the new freedom given to me by college, that soon I lost my self-control and spun far away from the boy I had been here.  Perhaps I had hated too much.  I lost my way, ending as an anonymous infantry soldier in a war South East Asia that would settle my battle with myself—I’d either be dead, or reborn.  I was wounded, but not dead.  It took me years, years to find my way again.  It was my grandmother’s death, when I was 30 years old, that sharpened my senses in ways I couldn’t understand at first.  The deaths of the men I knew in war were not the same.  Her death was not only the closing of her life, but my hopes for myself as well; at 30, divorced,unsuccessful, having succumbed to a loss of self control that was spiraling me downward in a mental cloud of unresolved emotional issues, I only knew this—that I had not lived up to what I knew I could still be, and my grandmother lying there dead before me gently reached out to me with her understanding.  ‘It would be all right,’ she whispered.  ‘You will be all right.’

And it was in the depths of that despair in the middle of my life that I recalled the things bred into the bone here at the Hill—the iron discipline you get in the middle of a cold winter’s night, when everything seems against you.  You wake alone at 5am and you finish that essay or wrestle with that primal most difficult misunderstanding in geometry or physics.  When you feel unloved, neglected, unknown,the world looks grim indeed—it’s then, forged in the abyss of your despair that your true character emerges. In order for this to happen, you must find a way to befriend yourself again, to trust yourself.  To know yourself.  Hill may have been hell, but in hell you learn who you are.  And thus over time I came through this crises—and had success greater than I’d ever imagined.

And then I then I fell again…and rose again…and fell again—several times now in my life.  Life is longer than you think at your dramatic age.

To this day, I remain most aware of my tendencies to give into an aberrant but powerful nature.  My greatest conflict is with myself.  I present these confessions to share with you the truth that every one of us has difficulties to face up to in our private natures.  Those of you who realize that become more conscious of yourselves, and I think in the end do better by bearing witness.  As your Greek dramas tell you, flaws, tragic or not, do not reveal themselves in the first act, or sometimes not at all—and like Oedipus end with blindness seen too late.

So, “Be like a lamp unto yourself,” Buddha said at the end.  “Know thyself,” Socrates added.  The greatest guides in my life have always insisted on the need to be self-conscious in order to live fully this life.  Would Odysseus, unlike his crew, have made it home to Ithaca after so many painful years if he’d been less self conscious?  Think on this through the years.  I say this because I just know, many of you,at least in my time, perhaps as much as 50%, or even the majority of you, are not going to think much about anything, as you inherit a life of ease and perhaps wealth, and walk your way through this existence on Wall Street or in Washington, beloved of power, or some enormous, arrogant corporation that your class gives you access to.  You will join the right clubs, marry the right guys or girls, play golf with the right people, have the right social circle of friends, make as much money as you can,and as best you can, as best most people can, ignore please the suffering of this world,because this is not in your self-interest—but it should be in yourself-knowledge.

Your generation goes out now into a world, whether you like it or not, where your country, that you will be identified with, has an indisputable military dominance over the rest of mankind and is much hated for this, as a sole super power and bully—and yet we are a country that often defines itself as beleaguered and threatened by hostile forces such as China,Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and the 60 or 70 other countries that contain terrorist elements.

Your taxes will help pay for this ongoing war.  For what the military calls “a full spectrum dominance of air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.”  In all of this, there are some who would say we have squandered a vast fortune to dominate the world.  Our military strength was originally created in WWII to protect this country, and that is still the given motive.  Yet after WWII we expanded our reach and now have military alliances with dozens of foreign countries dominating the Middle East and surrounding Russia and China; we have 6000 military bases here in the U.S. and, though kept secret from us, an estimated 700—1000 bases abroad.  China by comparison, has 1 foreign base.  Yet we deem ourselves threatened by other countries and describe ourselves in our advertisements for the Navy as “a global force for good.”

The military warns us that if we cut from its budget they cannot guarantee our safety any longer—that is to say, 1 trillion dollars out of a 2.4 trillion dollars real expense—40% of our actual expenditure—goes to our defense, security, and gathering intelligence.

We are a giant spending the total of all other major countries combined on defense.   Defense of what?  We were told repeatedly it was communism we must fear.  When that failed to materialize for reasons of its own, we found new enemies.  We called them tyrants, new Hitlers, dictators(although we supported the majority of these dictators).  And then finally early in this century, we fell upon the unbeatable idea that war could be forever and the threat would never end—it was to be the global war on small groups of terrorists.  In fact we declared war on the word itself—‘terrorism.’  Although terrorism has been with us for 4 millenniums, in our hubris we identified it as quantifiable,and appointed ourselves crusaders fighting for good against evil with God on our side—ignoring once again the true horror of how awful most of the crusaders behaved, bringing true terrorism to the Middle East time and again through the centuries.

We still act, 70 years after dropping the atomic bomb on Japan (many would argue unnecessarily), as if we are still an underdog under threat.  By militarizing space, as we have been doing in disregard of the rest of all other nations’ desires to keep space neutral, we have reached a new monstrous level of destruction.  By 2025, in about 13 years, when you’re 30years old, maybe sooner, it will be quite possible for the U.S. to blind through cyber warfare entire armies and destroy with drones and lasers entire countries from outer space.  You’ve seen“Star Wars,” “Star Trek”—you’ve seen planets, entire worlds destroyed from outer space.

Space War is here.

You are that generation that now can choose to tyrannize this world with our great power, or else seek to change it.  Have no doubts about this.  You will encounter many madmen with power from within our society who will tell you time and again, ‘Duty. Honor. Revenge.We must act, we must stop this, we must negate that, we must draw a line in the sand, and we must fight for ‘freedom’ and‘democracy’ (whatever that means in a world that doesn’t always share the same values we have).’  Theirs in not the way, as proven by history, theirs is always the easiest solution!—Force over reason, clear-cut solutions over sometimes painful ambiguity.  Beware these men with the angry gestures and the brutal words.

During the Cuban Missile Crises of October 1962, I think still very few people realize how close we came to nuclear war.  President John Kennedy, who was himself a veteran of the Navy and had performed heroically in the Pacific theater, was surrounded by military advisers and the ex-president Dwight Eisenhower, who counseled him after several days of standoff, it was time to go into Cuba to attack.  Which we now know would have set off not only a major nuclear war with the Soviet Union, but possibly a nuclear winter that would have doomed mankind. We would not be here today if John Kennedy, a veteran, and the Russian Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, a veteran of the Battle of Stalingrad, had not had the character to look into the abyss and say no to those who were so ready for war.  Years later, the Russian Premier Gorbachev presented similar peace proposals to President Reagan, and once again we pulled back from the brink.

We too easily forget all the times we’ve chosen the path of peace and accommodation.  We need to understand the ‘other’ and not fear it. Seeing others with empathy and a desire to understand is the key to achieving peace.

The Berlin Wall fell.

The Cold War ended.

Roosevelt, on the last day of his life writing a cable to Churchill, said, “I would minimize the general Soviet problem as much as possible because these problems, in one form or another, seem to arise everyday and most of them straighten out.”

Find it then—each of you in your self-consciousness—find away to make peace—with yourself, a peace that allows others to live.  Allow me to remember for you some of the greatest words in modern times ever spoken by an American President—John F.Kennedy—in June of ’63 at American University, 5 months before his assassination.

“What kind of a peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.  I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living – the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women…And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.  For, in the final analysis,our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal”

Although this president was soon killed for believing in this vision by the same forces that often strike down the controversial peace seekers of any time, I urge you now to go forth, a new generation, into this challenge of a world. Some of you may well turn out to be major leaders in this country, perhaps even a President is sitting amongst you.

Go then with wit and grit, and a sense of balance when life throws you, as it will. And above all, never forget your lifeline to yourself and mankind—to use the great power you have begun to forge here at the Hill—the power of trained mind, self-control, and discipline beyond the ordinary and with all that and a strong good heart, I beg you to work for peace in this world.

Bless you all!

– Oliver Stone

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