Inside USD

“Big Bang Theory” Actor Delivers at Arts and Sciences Commencement

Sunday, May 24, 2009

By turns funny, poignant and reflective, Jim Parsons ’01 (MFA) delivered an inspirational commencement address at the College of Arts and Sciences’ 56th Undergraduate Commencement ceremonies on Sunday.


Actor Jim Parsons (left) with MFA program director Richard Seer.

“When I got the call that I was being asked to deliver this commencement address, I asked a cast-mate, ‘When did they start letting mediocre minds deliver commencement addresses?’” 

The actor — who plays socially inept physicist Sheldon Cooper on the hit CBS TV show The Big Bang Theory — focused on the theme of combating life’s inevitable doubt and uncertainty in his remarks: “Perhaps they thought that I really am a genius. I am not. I only play one on TV. However, the request to deliver a commencement speech is one of those things in life that you just don’t say no to.”

Parsons encouraged graduates to follow their bliss, even if the road they choose appears fraught with obstacles. “If you’re looking to make a living doing something you love — which I highly recommend — this will only make your doubt and uncertainty more intense during the process,” he said.

By relating the story of his own journey to a successful acting career, he urged the audience to take risks in spite of not always know which route will lead to their hearts’ desire.

“When I first arrived in New York after graduating from USD and was looking for an agent and trying to figure out what the right thing to do was, I talked to many actors,” he recalled. “What I really wanted was for someone to tell me that the choice I was about to make wasn’t wrong. Then one day, in response to my barrage of question, one told me, ‘there are no rules.’ It was one of the most frighteningly extreme statements I’d ever heard.”

Parsons did offer practical advice for the freshly minted graduates: “Preparation is an excellent way to combat doubt. When I was first attempting to get into the graduate program at USD, all I knew was that I was to show two contrasting acting pieces and there would be a discussion afterwards. I also knew that hundreds would be competing for seven slots. My response was to prepare.” He performed and honed and revised and worked. “Eventually I got to the point where I was confident that I had prepared something that was worthy of being watched, and I was excited to show it to them.”

Of course, all the preparation in the world doesn’t guarantee success, but maybe that’s okay. “One of the best things I’ve learned in the many auditions since then is that the immediate result doesn’t really matter. Your doubt may prove true. They may not like what they see. They may not like your choices. However, this is not the same thing as being wrong. This is not an ‘F.’”

In conclusion, Parsons urged graduates to cut themselves some slack. “Be quick to forgive yourself. You don’t do yourself, or anyone else, any favors by operating out of perpetual guilt. If that makes no sense to you, congratulations. In any case, these last four years — or five, I’m not judging — are some of the most important preparations you will ever do for yourself.”

— Julene Snyder

Read more about Jim Parsons in USD Magazine’s Summer 2009 issue.

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