Michelle Yeoh receives honorary doctorate from AFI: ‘After I learned how to fall, I could learn how to fly’

  • Malaysian actor Michelle Yeoh accepted her honorary doctorate of fine arts from the American Film Institute (AFI) and delivered a speech during AFI’s 2022 commencement ceremony on Saturday. 
  • Addressing this year’s graduating class, the legendary 60-year-old actor imparted lessons she learned early on in her career.
  • According to Yeoh, the stunt performers she met at a gym taught her important life lessons in addition to how to do stunts.
  • Yeoh shared one lesson that has stayed with her: “I had to learn how to fall. Well, you could say I learned it in my bones, literally.”
  • She also reminded the graduating class that while there is now “greater inclusion” and “more diverse stories,” there is always more that can be done to “improve our storytelling” since sharing stories is a “privilege none of us should take for granted.” 

Legendary actor Michelle Yeoh imparted lessons from her youth during a speech at the American Film Institute’s 2022 commencement ceremony on Saturday. 

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert introduced Yeoh, who addressed this year’s graduating class as she accepted an honorary doctorate of fine arts at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. 

The 60-year-old Malaysian star shared that the stunt performers she met at a gym where she would train taught her important life lessons in addition to how to do stunts.

“The first thing they taught me what to do was to tuck and roll, then how to fall on my side, and then how to fall on my back,” she narrated. “And after a while, it dawned on me that they were teaching me how to fall. I was convinced I was being pranked. I was like, ‘When do I get to do the real stuff? You know, the jumping kick, the roundhouse kick.’ And they said to me, ‘How are you going to go up if you don’t know how to come down?'”

According to Yeoh, that lesson stuck with her: “I had to learn how to fall. Well, you could say I learned it in my bones, literally.”

She recalled the numerous times she endured different falls, including the time her back folded in half after she jumped off a 20-foot highway overpass for a stunt. In a separate stunt for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” she tore her anterior cruciate ligament after not landing properly. 

“These moments taught me perseverance, grit and humility,” she declared. “They also forced me to hone and perfect my skills and eventually progress to the point where I was running on rooftops and jumping onto moving trains. But I’m not asking you all to do that, okay?”

Yeoh noted, “After I learned how to fall, I could learn how to fly.”

“Our slips and stumbles are the secrets to our flight,” she continued. “Every person who has ever stepped on this stage has had their fair share of crashes. Trust me, that’s part of the deal. Success without failure is called luck. It cannot really be repeated or relied upon. It is from failure, we learn and grow.” 

Yeoh also highlighted the opportunities that have emerged from the recent changes in the entertainment industry.

“This is a very different industry than the one I entered decades ago,” Yeoh went on. “We are witnessing a profound shift. Greater inclusion, more diverse stories, wider access and unlimited global reach. We have shown in our work and at the box office that we are ready for the opportunities, and we deserve more.” 

She reminded the graduating class that there is always more they can do to “improve our storytelling” since sharing stories is a “privilege none of us should take for granted.” 

“Be courageous, take chances, break barriers, be proud of what makes you unique,” she said at the end of her speech. “And most importantly, don’t be afraid to fall… for you are learning to fly. Congratulations again. I look forward to seeing what you can do out there. Be kind to yourself, be kind, be kind, be kind. And thank you again, once again, AFI, for this tremendous honor.” 

 

Featured Image via American Film Institute

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