Actor Michael Keaton Gives Advice to Graduating Kent State Students, Ends Remarks With Memorable Movie Line “I’m Batman”

Take chances. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seek your authentic self.

Those were the messages that actor Michael Keaton shared with Kent State University graduates taking part in the One University Commencement on Saturday, May 12.

Mr. Keaton, an Academy Award-nominated actor and Kent State alumnus, delivered the address at Dix Stadium before a standing room-only crowd of more than 21,000 people.

Batman Returns to Kent State

Mr. Keaton, best known for his roles Batman and Batman Returns, as well as the Oscar-winning movies Birdman and Spotlight, talked about his love of education, which he said began at Kent State.

“I never really liked school until I came to Kent State, and that’s the truth,” he said. “When I came here to Kent, it really changed, and I’m not just saying that.”

Now, Mr. Keaton said he loves all types of education and learning.

“Here in Kent, I have fond memories not only of the place but mostly of my experiences,” he said. “And now I love education, love it. I like places that are big-thinking, forward-thinking institutions of education, and I like all kinds of school and all kinds of education.”

Mr. Keaton talked about his own financial struggles that caused him to have to stop and start attending college, eventually dropping out and heading to California to pursue his acting career.

Prior to his speech, Mr. Keaton was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for his contributions to film.

“Congratulations,” he told the graduates, “You’ve already accomplished something I didn’t: You graduated.”

Mr. Keaton reminisced that he owned only one pair of shoes his entire time at Kent State, Adidas Stan Smith athletic shoes, and then proceeded to pull out a similar pair from under his chair and stopped to put them on his feet.

He also gave a nod to the Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication

“This is one of the great universities for journalism,” he said. “I was a big fan of The Kent Stater, read it every day.”

The Importance of Hard Work and Trying

Much of higher education comes from the experiences one has at college, he said, telling the crowd of the small attic room he shared with a roommate who worked as a roofer on the weekends, noting the student’s work ethic and encouraging the group to face up to and embrace hard work.

He encouraged graduates always to try.

“There’s nothing I love more than people who try,” he said. “You have to take risks. I’m going to ask you to take risks whenever you can. Put yourself on the line. Don’t be afraid to look foolish. Make mistakes. Take chances. It’s one of the best things you can do.”

Seek Your Authentic Self

Mistakes will lead to self-discovery, he said, “and will lead you back to you natural, authentic self.”

Always seek that authentic self, the person you were as a child, Mr. Keaton said.

“Don’t ever live in your false self,” he said. “Always live in your real self, because the absolute freedom of not worrying about what other people think is indescribable and worth all the effort that you put into it.”

Living as your authentic self, he said, will require one to face humility.

Be the Change

Mr. Keaton told the group that he is friends with singer John Mayer, whom he called “a monster guitar player” and a great songwriter, and noted how Mr. Mayer had written the song, “Waiting on the World to Change.”

“I hate that song,” he said, telling the group. “Don’t you wait for anyone. You are the world. You are the change.”

Closing his remarks, Mr. Keaton told the Class of 2018: “Be respectful. Respect yourself. Always think of the other guy, as my mom used to say. Be thoughtful. Honor decency. And fellas, be a gentleman. Be generous. Be fair. Be courageous. Be yourself.”

Two Final Words

Following his remarks, Kent State President Beverly J. Warren presented a plaque to Mr. Keaton as a thank-you for serving as this year’s commencement speaker.

Accepting the plaque, Mr. Keaton told the crowd he would leave them with just two words: “I’m Batman.”

UPDATED: Sunday, May 19, 2024 09:26 AM
Lisa Abraham