Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer Challenges Graduates to Ignore Comparisons, Achieve Success on Their Own Terms

Octavia Spencer said her rise to the top of Hollywood began with a many struggles, but her resolve to succeed never failed.

Speaking to graduates attending Kent State University’s first One University Commencement Ceremony on May 13, Ms. Spencer said she almost missed her own graduation ceremony. She arrived at Auburn University just in time to don her cap and gown, and looking back, Ms. Spencer said it was one of the best decisions of her life because it marked the beginning of a new journey in her life.

“As much as you’ve changed during your time here, more change is coming,” Ms. Spencer told graduates and their families in attendance in Dix Stadium. “You’re going to continue to evolve in unforeseen ways. You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface.”

Ms. Spencer shared stories of fighting doubts about finding success as an actress, in part because she did not look like other stars of the big screen. She told students to believe in themselves and to cut out the noise that can hold someone back from their best work.

“Don’t let yourself get caught up in the trap of comparison,” she said. “Ignore the silly ‘30 under 30’ lists that the Internet throws at you before you even have your morning cup of coffee, those will be the bane of your existence post-graduation. Trust me. Comparing yourself to others’ success only slows you down from finding your own.”

Watch Octavia Spencer’s Commencement Address

“Remember, no one came here the same way, and you won’t all achieve the success the same way,” she said.

Best known for critically acclaimed starring roles in films such as “The Help,” “Hidden Figures” and “The Shack,” Ms. Spencer is also the co-author of two children’s books. Her acting roles highlight stories of perseverance and tenacity that motivate and inspire audiences of all ages. Ms. Spencer’s mother, Dellsena, worked as a maid, and Ms. Spencer, the sixth of seven children, earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University. Ms. Spencer has said that she loved playing characters that have “a voice and an opinion” and were proactive in bringing about change in their communities, “ordinary women who were heroes.”

Ms. Spencer won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress as the feisty and unflappable Minny Jackson in the film “The Help.” She also received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for her most recent role as mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the drama “Hidden Figures,” the true story of several African-American mathematicians at NASA who were critical to the success of the space race in the 1960s. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ms. Spencer bought out a Los Angeles screening of “Hidden Figures” to treat low-income families who would have otherwise not been able to see the film.

Watch Spencer and other high profile commencement speakers in The Washington Post.

POSTED: Monday, May 15, 2017 12:06 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 09:58 PM
Eric Mansfield