Almost two decades after mopping the MIT halls as a janitor, Will Hunting has returned to the university.
On Friday, Matt Damon gave this year’s MIT commencement address, returning to his hometown of Boston to offer advice for the graduating class of 2016 – as well as a few jokes about his career.
“Let’s be honest. This is an honor I didn’t really earn,” Damon told the crowd. “I’m just going to put that out there. I’ve seen the list of previous commencement speakers: Nobel prize winners, the U.N. secretary general, the president of the World Bank, the president of the United States. Who did you get? The guy who did the voice for a cartoon horse. If you’re wondering which cartoon horse, that’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, a movie some of you might have grown up watching. Definitely one of my best performances as a cartoon horse.”
Damon, who earned an Oscar for writing the Good Will Hunting screenplay with Ben Affleck, spoke candidly about his own path to success, from dropping out of Harvard and struggling to land auditions with Affleck to traveling the world and co-founding Water.org, an organization dedicated to bringing clean water to impoverished areas. Opening up about his own professional failures, he urged MIT’s new graduates to take risks and to not be afraid of failure.
“As the great philosopher Benjamin Affleck once said, ‘Judge me by how good my good ideas are, not how bad my bad ideas are,’” Damon said. “You’ve got to suit up in your armor. You’ve got to get ready to sound like a total fool. Not having an answer isn’t embarrassing – it’s an opportunity.”
Damon added that the world is a troubled place, citing issues like economic inequality, the global refugee crisis, and climate change, and he argued that we need passionate, driven people who aren’t afraid to tackle problems head-on. To drive home his point, he discussed simulation theory, the idea that our world is merely a simulation set up by an advanced civilization, and that we have to keep the simulation going by making bold choices.
“If there are multiple simulations, how come we have to be in the one where Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president?” Damon added. “Can we, like, transfer to a different one?”
Damon also took shots at Wall Street, particularly accusing bankers of fraud and theft. “I don’t know if justice is coming for you in this life or the next, but if justice does come for you in this life, her name will be Elizabeth Warren,” he said.
But above all, Damon urged the new MIT graduates to dedicate their future to solving problems instead of turning away from them – a piece of advice he said he received from former president Bill Clinton.
“What are you going to be a part of?” Damon asked, before referencing his part in Behind the Candelabra. “What is the problem you will try to solve? Whatever your answer, it is not going to be easy. Sometimes your work will hit a dead end. Sometimes your work will be measured in half steps. Sometimes your work will make you wear a white sequined military uniform and make love to Michael Douglas. All right, maybe that’s just my work. But for all of you here, your work starts today.”