The University of Houston's celebrity commencement speaker, Matthew McConaughey, dropped more than a few jaws Friday night at TDECU Stadium. While the threat of stormy weather seemed like it would hinder enjoyment of the ceremony, the rain let up over and allowed graduates, as well as their family and friends, to enjoy the event.
From the second McConaughey rose from his chair, it was beyond apparent that this wasn't going to be a "traditional" commencement speech. The actor — dressed in a white button-down shirt and dark slacks — stepped from behind the podium and sat on a wooden stool at the front of the stage. He began by congratulating the 2015 graduating class before explaining how he decided to approach the rather daunting task of addressing the more than 4,000 graduates, most of whom are no older than 22.
"Out of respect for you and your efforts in getting your degree, I thought long and hard about what I could share with you tonight," he said. "I thought about what you would want, I thought about what you might need."
It felt more like words coming from a wise older brother rather than an Academy Award-winner-cum-commencement speaker. McConaughey launched into a slightly convoluted 45-minute speech that was held together with 13 personal truths, each of which related to a story from his own life.
These stories ran the gamut from his infamous nude bongo-playing incident and his experiences in a New Orleans voodoo shop to his friendship with Darrell K Royal, the former football coach of his alma mater, the University of Texas, and his first film role in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. (Note: He did say his character's famous line, "Alright, alright, alright," much to the delight of the younger crowd.)
The speech felt a bit Rust Cohle a la True Detective at times. His speech was almost like stream of consciousness, with McConaughey making expansive statements like, "Too many options will make tyrants of us all." There were more than a few swear words in there, too.
While it was a rather disjointed — albeit poignant — speech, the message was an uplifting one and offered up the insight of a worldly man to a group comprising mostly young adults. McConaughey finished with a summary of his personal truths wrapped into a brief statement:
"We have what I believe is heaven right here on earth," he said. "That’s the place where what we want is also just what we need.
"So, while we’re here, let’s make it a place where we break a sweat, where we believe, where we enjoy the process of succeeding in the places and ways that we are fashioned to, where we don’t have to look over our shoulder because we’re too busy doing what we’re good at, voluntarily keeping our own counsel because we want to, traveling towards immortal finish lines, where we write our own book, overcome all our fears and make friends with ourselves. And that’s the place that I’m talking about.
"Thank you. Good luck. Just keep living.”