“Thank you very much President Wagner and Dean for having me here today. Trustees, faculties, families, friends and graduates – it is an honor to stand before you here and receive this Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree. It is my first Law degree. And finally, finally the Kennedy’s will think that I am successful. And finally Maria can take me home to meet her family – finally. No, it is truly an honor to stand here today on this joyous day as your commencement speaker. I was also supposed to give a commencement speech in Arizona, but with my accent I was worried that they were going to deport me back to Austria, so I cancelled that idea right away. Now I know that each of you is about to start your next chapter, so I am here today to just tell you my story. And I’m here today to inspire you, and to pump you up! Of course, I have to say that not everyone is going to be as hungry as I always was, or as ambitious or as intense – and let me tell you, if someone told me that something is impossible, I would go out and do it – that’s just the way I always was. I was told to my face ‘you’re nothing but a giant muscle’ – you can’t act, you have no future and you have an accent that is laughable. And that’s exactly what my wife Maria said to me on my first date. So we worked our way up slowly until we got married. Now she doesn’t say those things anymore.
Anyway, I want to begin by congratulating today’s graduates. And that is all of you: the amazing men and women of Emory University’s Class of 2010!
You are our nation’s newest nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, ministers, artists, scientists, business leaders – and the list goes on and on. You really are an amazing crowd! Nearly 4,000 men and women who have dedicated themselves to study and to service. Through environmental action, through social justice, through public health. I know that your student body is among the most diversified in our nation’s leading research universities. You represent nearly 50 states and 75 countries. You speak dozens of different languages – as a matter of fact I was so impressed by how many languages you speak, I decided to spice it up a little bit and deliver the rest of my speech in German….. No I’m just joking, I’m not going to do that to you. I saw some worried eyes out there.
So let’s go and just talk a little bit about the special, remarkable accomplishments that you all have made. But of course, you would not be here today without the love and the support of your families. Let’s give them a big round of applause for the great work that they have done. And let’s not forget the faculty and staff whose hard work shaped you into the tremendous people that you are today. Let’s also give them a big hand.
Now over the last few weeeks, I was wondering what I should be talking about here today. So I sent my staff out and did a little survey here among some of the students. It was interesting: 17 percent want me to be inspirational. 23 percent want me to give practical advice. And 30 percent just wanted to have their money back from my movie ‘Jingle All the Way.’ Can’t get no respect around here. But the other 30 percent wanted me to say the following lines:
* Hasta la vista, baby.
* It’s not a tumor. It’s not a tumor at all.
* Crush your enemies. See them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women.
* I’ll be back. [Laughter.]
So now that we have that out of the way – I just try to satisfy everybody here – I really wanted to talk to you about my rules for success. And about visualizing your dreams. Because it is so important to know exactly what you want to accomplish and what you want to do.
I mean, the key principles also are – that brought me incredible success in several careers, from bodybuilding to acting and from public service to politics – are simply the rules of:
* Work like hell
* Trust yourself
* Break some rules
* Don’t be afraid to fail
* Ignore the naysayers
* and Stay hungry
Let me tell you, I’ve made a fortune in several careers, and I’ve been very successful in several careers by ignoring the nay-sayers and believing in myself.
Imagine you’re 15 years old and you’re in Austria and you say to people, ‘I want to be the bodybuilding champion of the world.’ Of course they come to you and say, ‘but wait a minute, this is not an Austrian sport…’ Skiing, you should be a ski champion, or a soccer champion or track and field champion – that’s Austria. But body-building, that’s an American sport.’ But you know something? I had a very clear vision and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a bodybuilding champion. And I started training one hour a day, two hours a day, three hours a day. By the time I was in military service, at age 18, I trained four to five hours a day. And I became the youngest Mr. Universe ever – the youngest world champion at the age of 20. So much for ‘it can’t be done.’
And right after that – because like I said, you have to be hungry – I went after my next goal, which was to come to America. My whole life I wanted to come to America. I came over here with empty pockets, but full of dreams; full of desire. I had this fire in the belly and I knew that the United States was where I could really succeed. The possibilities here are endless – I wanted to live the American Dream, because this is the land of opportunity. I knew that this was where I could continue my body-building career and start acting also – go into the acting profession.
So I immigrated here and I kept training and training hours every day – five hours, six hours a day, and won one world championship after another. By the time I was finished with bodybuilding I won 13 world championship titles, more than anyone.
And then again I was hungry to move on, because you can’t do bodybuilding for the rest of your life. I wanted to move on and I knew that it was acting that I wanted to get into. But again I faced the same obstacles where people said ‘it can’t be done’. I mean I talked to agents and they said to me, ‘you cannot just become an actor and walk into movies’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to just become an actor, I want to be a leading man.’ They said ‘forget about it’ and they laughed. ‘I mean with your accent? No one has become a leading man with your accent. And with your body, look at all those bumps sticking out. This over-developed body, they were in 20 years ago when they did Hercules movies, but now it’s Dustin Hoffman, it’s Al Pacino, it’s Woody Allen – those are the new symbols, don’t you understand it? Look at you, forget it it will never happen. And your name, Schwarzen-schnitzel or whatever your name is. I can see it already up there on the billboard, that isn’t going to sell any tickets.’
But you know something? I didn’t listen to them. I started working very hard, just like I did with bodybuilding. Five, six hours a day, I went to acting classes, speech classes, dialogue classes, accent removal classes – everything that you can think of I did.
And slowly everything started happening. All of those liabilities that they talked about started turning into assets… When I did Conan the Barbarian the director came to me and said ‘if we didn’t have you, we would have had to build one.’ And on Terminator the director said, ‘I couldn’t imagine having anyone play Terminator that wouldn’t have your accent and wouldn’t have your body. I cannot imagine the line ‘I’ll be back’ with a normal American accent. It works so perfectly that you have this German accent. So all of those things that they said were liabilities, became assets. As moment went on, I grew and grew and I went from one movie to the next and started making more and more money until I ended up becoming the highest-paid actor, with $30 million for ‘Terminator III.’ That just shows you again, so much for ‘it can’t be done.’ This is why I try to tell you, anything and everything can be done if you can visualize it and if you believe in yourself.
It was the same thing again when I ran for governor – you can imagine when I went on the Tonight Show and I announced that I am going to run for governor of the great state of California, people came to me afterward and said ‘you’re crazy, you don’t announce something like this on the Tonight Show! You have an official press conference at the State Capital. Plus, you don’t start with governorship, you start with mayor or state senator.’ And I said ‘I don’t want to be senator, I don’t want to be mayor, I want to be governor, don’t you understand that?!’
Well, the rest is history. I won in 2003 and I won also in 2006. Let me tell you, you’re going to find the nay-sayers in every turn that you make – don’t listen. Just visualize your goal; know exactly where you want to go, trust yourself, get out there and work like hell, and break some of the rules, and never ever be afraid of failure. I couldn’t have gone through one lifting event in my life if I had been afraid of failure – because of course there’s a chance that you can fail. When you lift the weight – I tried 10 times to lift, bench-press 500 pounds and I failed, but the 11th time I did it. So never give up and never be afraid of failure, because otherwise you box yourself in and you limit yourself. I was never afraid to fail when I ran for governor. I was never afraid to fail to tackle anything, because you should not be afraid of failure, that’s just part of life. I’ve lived for those principles and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, and I’ve made a lot of money at the same time. But of course, I have to tell you, no matter how successful you get, no matter how old you get, you always have to be hungry for more. You always have to be hungry for learning new things, because you never learn enough. I for instance learned, when I grew up I always thought that greatness was directly tied to fame and fortune. I thought that the big career and the money and the achievement would equal success, but I was dead wrong. But I learned that later on. I learned that totally by coincidence when the University of Wisconsin did a research program on ‘what effect weight-training would have for special olympians for intellectually challenged people’. They called me. They said ‘Arnold, you’re the expert in this subject; we want you to come up to the University and help us with our program – to help us with our special olympians.’ And I flew up to the University of Wisconsin, and I helped. And there were these kids; the first exercise we decided to do was bench-press, and they were all standing in line. The first kid layed down on the bench; I put the 40lb bobble over his chest and he did the simple exercise of bench-press. He did 10 reps. And then he got up and the next one layed down; I put the bobble over his chest, and then that kid started breathing really heavy, and all of a sudden he started screaming really loud. And he jumped up and put the bar back and he started shaking. I realized he was scared of the weight. So I calmed him down, I said ‘that’s okay, just watch your friends do the bench-press, and maybe you want to try it again.’ And the friends came through and they did all the bench-press and everyone did great performance, and then all of a sudden he stood in line at the end and tried again. He laid down; this time I gave him the empty bar, just the 20lbs and he did 10 reps and then I said ‘do you want to have more plates on it? more weight?’ And he said ‘yes’. So I put two more plates on it – now he was back to the 40lbs he had earlier – and he did 10 more reps. And then he said ‘more.’ Then I put two more plates on it – now it was 60lbs, and he did another 10 reps. And he said ‘more’. He did 80lbs. Then I lifted the weight off and he jumped up, high-fived everyone and he was so excited. And it was a real eye-opener for me because when I saw that kid going from terror to self-confidence in that short period of time, and that I had that effect on him, that I could do that, I was so excited about it. As a matter of fact, I went home to the hotel that night and I was so delighted, and I said to myself, ‘what is going on here?’ Wait a minute, I didn’t make any money. It was not a career move at all. It was nothing – why am I so excited? Well let me tell you, I figured out that it was because I was reaching out and helping someone that needed help. And my father-in-law Sergeant Shriver, who started during the Kennedy Administration and Johnson Administration, the Peace Corps, the Job Corps, legal aid to the poor, Head Start, and all of those very important programs. He gave a speech at the Yale University, and he said it very clearly when he said to the students, ‘tear down that mirror. tear down that mirror that makes you always look at yourself. Tear down that mirror and you will be able to look beyond and you will see the millions and millions of people that need your help.’ And I realized then when he said that, that’s what happened to me that day – that I tore down my mirror that made me always look at myself, and always worry about ‘how can I get rich, how can I get famous, how can I make money, how can I make a career move.’ I tore down that mirror and looked beyond and I saw all the special olympians that needed my help. So this was a great, great learning – this is why I say ‘stay hungry’ to learn those new things. For years now I have been involved in Special Olympics – For years, I’ve been the National Coach, the International Coach, the torch-bearer, the Ambassador for Special Olympians and traveling all around the world and helping them – pumping up those athletes, marching with them into stadiums, training with them, waiting at the finish line to hug them and congratulate them, and put the medal over their head, and hang it around them. This has been such a wonderful thing, and such a satisfying thing. As a matter of fact, on one of those trips I went to South Africa and there I got to meet my hero – one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela. Talk about greatness. See, this is a different greatness than what I had ever thought was important – he spent 27 years in prison because he believed black South Africans should be equal, but when he was released from prison, instead of seeking revenge, he talked about forgiveness. Mandela said the most important thing was reconciliation and bringing his country together. As a matter of fact, after he was released from prison he had lunch with the wife of the prime minister who was the architect of apartheid. Think about that – having lunch with her – the man that was responsible for putting him into prison. Mandela became a living message of love, inclusion and tolerance. Now that is greatness. Helping others and looking beyond that mirror is my measure of greatness today. That’s what makes me feel good about myself, and I can tell you today I’d rather go to an after-school program and help a little girl, and play chess with her than going down another red-carpet at a movie premiere.
I know that one of the reasons you invited me here today was to honor my commitment to public service. That is a great honor coming from a university that has distinguished itself through service. I know that you’re not just famous all over the country and all over the world because of the great education that you provide here, but also because of the extraordinary service of reaching out into the community and to the state. As a matter of fact, one my favorite things that you do here is host the Georgia Special Olympic games. What a great accomplishment – you have been doing this at this university for two decades. Let’s give the University a great-great hand for that great work.
Now I want to thank you on behalf of my mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics more than 40 years ago. We lost her this last year, but I know that she is looking down from heaven right now and smiling, knowing that I am talking about Special Olympics and thanking you for the great work that you have done. Because she changed the world by starting the Special Olympics movement. And she is a shining example of the chain reaction that begins simply by one person taking that simple step forward. Of course she had the nay-sayers; it wasn’t easy. When she said ‘I want to take those special olympians – those people out of those institutions, all the experts said, ‘this is the wrong thing to do. If they’re doing sports they will hurt themselves, and they will hurt one another and they will drown in the swimming pool.’ But she was not listening to the nay-sayers. She moved on, she campaigned and she called and pushed relentlessly for human and civil rights. And she never took ‘no’ for an answer. And now because of that Special Olympics is in 179 countries all over the world. And millions and millions of kids are now participating in sports, and getting health care and dental care, and getting jobs. As a matter of fact, I have a Special Olympian in my office – John is doing such a great job delivering the mail all over my office, and always coming up with new ways of being more efficient. I wish the rest of the politicians in our state capital were as efficient as he is, trust me. But this is extraordinary to see his work, and I believe that we each have the same responsibility – to use our voice to serve and to make a difference.
I take that responsibility really seriously. And that it is why I ran for governor of the great state of California, because I knew that I could reach out to 38 million people. That is why it gives me such a satisfaction today – believe me, when I was 15 years old I never thought that I would ever become Governor of California. I am one of those fortunate ones that went way beyond his dreams. And another thing that I never would have dreamt in my wildest dreams was, that I would have worked for free for 7 years as Governor. Never. But I knew serving California would be an opportunity for me to make a difference – not only in my state – but to make a difference in this country, and to make a difference in the world. Because as an immigrant it is very important to give back, more so than anyone. If you’re born here it’s important to give back, but if you come here as an immigrant it is twice as important to give something back, because this country received you with open arms. This is the land of opportunity. I know that I would not have accomplished even 10% of the things I’ve accomplished if I would not have come to the United States. This is without any doubt, the greatest country in the world. Even though there are so many people complaining about America, I say to them ‘shut up!’ This is the greatest country in the world.
This is why I wanted to give something back. So I became governor, and we started to make things change. We changed things to rebuild California’s infrastructure, workers compensation, we reformed government to make government run more efficiently, and to fight global warming and reduce our greenhouse emissions by 25% by the year 2020 to fight Global Warming and also not to rely on the oil that comes from countries that hate us. Yes we are going to fight and continue doing that, and finally we also woke up the Federal Government to make sure that they have an environmental policy in place very soon and an energy policy.
Those are the kinds of positive changes that I went after. And all of this action happening, it was all happening because we worked very hard, we didn’t think about ourselves, but we thought about how can we help the state and the country. And we went out global. Now of course when I talk about this – when I talk about how important it is for each and every one of you to go out and do this, I don’t think that you should go global or that you should go this big – like I said I just happened to be very ambitious.
You all should go and be hungry for success, you should be hungry to make your mark, and you should be hungry to be seen and to be heard and to have an effect out there. But as you move on and become successful make sure to also stay hungry for helping others and looking beyond that mirror. Start with simple things, like coaching a school soccer team, or helping a child learn to read, or deliver meals to someone who is homebound. We in California now have 7 million volunteers. And I was the first Governor to appoint a cabinet secretary to be in charge of volunteerism and service. Now other governors are doing the same thing around the country.
Use your power and potential and make this nation, and this world, a better place. It worked for this immigrant who came over here to this country with $20 in his pocket. And I know and I guarantee it will work for you, too, the 2010 graduates of Emory University. I am proud of each and every one of you, of how far you’ve come. And I know you’re going to make great, great contributions to this state and to the world. So congratulations once again and God bless all of you. Thank you very much, thank you.”