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Robert De Niro Tells NYU Art Grads ‘You’re F#cked’ But It’ll Be Ok | Sage Advice For Creatives

By Kishore Sawh on May 25th 2015


It’s graduation season, and graduation is great. At all levels. You walk up those steps on stage a normal man/woman, a simpleton, a thicky. You had to be told where to sit, and where to walk, how to dress, and how many steps to take. But walking down them, a graduate, a scholar, there was simply no instruction at all. All that’s there is ‘Proceed to exit.’

Something like that.

At some point in the ceremony, generally the highlight, someone’s called to the stage to address the class. As if for a final piece of guidance before walking out the door and into ‘life’, the commencement speech is a bit of a big deal, especially when delivered by the Steve Jobs’ and Richard Bransons of the world. And people like Robert De Niro, who delivered the commencement speech to the NYU Tisch School Of The Arts’ 2015 graduates.

In full-fledged ‘Focker’, naturally he was direct and told all the grads, “You made it….and, you’re f#cked.” Even for NYU, which never lacks for great speeches by great orators, De Niro is special, and the reality with which he addressed the subject of life for artists and creatives compared to other classic pillars of education, resonates with photographers.

When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You weren’t just following dreams, you were reaching for your destiny. You’re a dancer, a singer, a choreographer, musician, a filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a director, a producer, an actor, an artist. Yeah, you’re f#cked.


It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, as he notes that it’s passion that causes us to choose this path, and it’s a rewarding one, and an undeniable one, if unstable; that the satisfaction of heeding to your passion is worth it. I think many of us would agree, even if we complain. The speech also touched upon the value of relationship maintenance, knowing how to work with others, and also realizing when to cut your losses. And not one to end on simply a negative note, he was appreciatively honest about the state of affairs and what it’s like to face life as a creative,

On this day of triumphantly graduating, a new door is opening for you: a door to a lifetime of rejection. It’s inevitable. It’s what graduates call the real world. Rejection might sting but my feeling is that often it has very little to do with you. When you’re auditioning or pitching, the director or producer or investor may have something or someone different in mind. That’s just how it is.

While most of the examples discussed relate more to acting, it’s almost entirely applicable to photography and any other creative endeavor. De Niro, predictably, is extremely good at delivering his message, maintaining eye contact with the audience entirely, which makes the 17 minute video easy and worth a watch, even if just for some inspiration.

Source: TIME Magazine

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Styborski

    That was an outstanding speech and so true as well…

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  2. Thomas Horton

    “Rejection might sting but my feeling is that often it has very little to do with you.”

    I think that is a bad attitude to instill in people. It is very easy, and emotionally satisfying to deflect rejection to “it’s not me, it’s them”. The problem is that this attitude also deflects the accountability of the rejection away from the person to “someone else”.

    Rejection sucks. But it should also motivate improvement or other changes.

    The photography would is already full of people who are confident in their awesomeness but lament that it is customer’s fault for not automatically recognizing their obvious awesomeness.

    So when you are rejected, yeah, it is about you. Now what are you going to do about it? That’s the mark of an someone who is going to be successful.

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    • Chad Focha

      Let’s not take things out of context. His following line; “When you’re auditioning or pitching, the director or producer or investor may have something or someone different in mind. That’s just how it is.” Sums up his point of view and it’s true in many circumstances.

      Maybe not so much in photography. Where you are what you produce. And if you are being rejected due to your work, maybe you do need some inner reflection and criticism, for your own benefit and growth. (Which I believe was your point.)

      But certainly there have been actors (for example) which have been rejected rolls simply because they were not the vision of the director for that part. And no amount of growth, or “getting better” is going to change that.

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  3. Rui Pinto

    Great speach. Makes me want to film right now

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  4. John Cavan

    For the vast majority of them, he’s probably right. It’s chasing the dream, though, so I think it’s still worth it. If nothing else, and you end up riding a desk in a big corporation, you’ll have an appreciation for arts and artistic endeavors that is so worth having.

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  5. J. Dennis Thomas

    Bobby D is always so succinct.

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