In delivering the commencement speech at Dillard University on Sunday, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington told the college graduates to "put God first" in everything they do, adding that everything he has accomplished in this life was due to "the grace of God."
"I’m going to keep it short," said Washington, who received an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters at the ceremony.
"Number one: Put God first," he said. "Put God first in everything you do."
"Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have – and I have a few things," said Washington. "Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift."
In leading up to those remarks, the star of such films as Malcolm X, Training Day, Glory, The Book of Eli, and The Equalizer, said, “When I was young and started really making it as an actor, I came and talked to my mother and said, ‘Mom, did you think this was going to happen? I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’"
"She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!" he continued. "She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind."
"She said, ‘Oh, you did it all by yourself,'" recounted Washington. "'I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: Go outside and get a mop and bucket and clean these windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.’"
"So, I’m saying that because I want to congratulate all the parents and friends and family and aunties and uncles and grandmother and grandfathers, all the people that helped you get to where you are today," Washington told the graduates. "I’m going to tell you about three stories. I’m going to keep it short. I remember my graduation speaker, got up there and went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
"I’m going to keep it short," he said, and then made his point about God and putting Him first in our lives. "Number one: Put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me. Everything I’ve accomplished, everything thing you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift."
Towards the end of his speech, Washington repeated some of the comments he has made over the years about reliance on God. He reminded that crowd that no matter how much you attain in material goods, "you will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse."
He also told the graduates of the small, private, historically black college in New Orleans, "I pray that you put your slippers under your bed tonight, so that when you wake up in the morning you have to get on your knees to reach them."
“And while you’re down there, say thank you," he said. "Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents. ... True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, to indicate that it’s yours already."
In addition to his movie work, Denzel Washington has acted in the theater, in productions of Richard III, Julius Caesar, and A Raisin in the Sun. He won an Academy Award for best actor in the 2001 film Training Day, and a best supporting actor Academy Award for the 1989 film Glory.
In a January 2008 interview with Oprah Winfrey, she asked Washington, “What makes you the most proud?” He said, “I'm careful about the word ‘proud.’ I'm happy to have read the Bible from cover to cover. I'm on my second go-round—I read one chapter a day. Right now I'm digging John. He just had dinner with Mary, and things are about to take a turn for the worse.”
Denzel Washington, 60, is married, has five children and is a Pentecostal Christian.