Sometimes just showing up is the hardest and most important thing you can do to succeed in life. Actor, director, and screenwriter Matthew Modine shared this advice with the 2008 graduating class of Goucher College in Baltimore. Modine is an alum of Thespian Troupe 3144 at Mar Vista High School in California. Following is an excerpt from his speech.

SHOW UP. … To make your fortune come true, you’ve got to show up. You’d be surprised by how many unbelievably talented people I have met in my life who wanted to become someone or to do something, but they didn’t show up for an appointment.

Photo of Matthew Modine by David Shankbone.

Photo of Matthew Modine by David Shankbone.

Tell the truth. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, telling the truth would be it. The long-term benefits of telling the truth may not make sense to you today, but 20 years from now, you’ll know what I mean. Lies simply get you and others in trouble. It’s easier to tell the truth than to lie, and the truth is easier to remember.

Continue to learn.

Continue to be curious.

Continue your education.

Keep your mind open to alternative ways of thinking and problem-solving. Life is not something that we ever truly master. It’s a practice. So practice. As the saying goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.”

Enjoy your youth and respect your elders. And vice versa.

Someone — an actor, perhaps — said, “When you are old enough to play Hamlet, you’re too young to understand it. When you’re old enough to understand it, you’re too old to play it.” This is one of the conundrums of youth. [Hamlet’s] a good play. If you haven’t already, you should read it. It’s good. Very uplifting. By the end, everyone is dead.

This is the best advice I ever received about how we look. My acting teacher, Stella Adler, said, “If you’re not pretty when you’re 20, it’s not your fault. If you’re not beautiful when you’re 30, it is.”

If you’re beautiful when you’re 20, you’re lucky. And we adore you, but secretly we’re all jealous, and we hate you. Right now you are at the height of your physical power. Unless you’ve gained weight from the school’s catering …

Develop your imagination. Go to museums and study art. Be curious about how things are made and what goes into making them. The best way for you to shape your future is to first imagine your future. Then you can go about designing it.

My life and career came to be by first imagining how I wanted to live and what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to be an actor — “to be” and “actor.” “To be” requires an understanding of who you are, which requires a bit of self-examination. Discovering who you are. Not what others think of you, not what advertisers want you to think of yourself. Not your friends or family, but you. It’s a little voice, and it’s hard to hear.

Sometimes this requires you to go away to a foreign land or someplace you’re not familiar with to hear it. You really have to make an effort to hear that little voice. But what joy when you do!

“To be” is what separates the individual from the mass. Acting simply means doing. So to be an actor means to be yourself — doing.

Don’t confuse imagining the future with worrying about the future. Certainly we must consider the future, like chopping wood for the winter or making sure we have food in the cupboard. Imagining the future requires you to be here now. In this moment. Don’t worry about the future, but be prepared for it. Be who you want to become.

This story appeared in the September 2008 print version of Dramatics. Learn about the print magazine and other Thespian benefits on the International Thespian Society website.

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