Academy Award-winner Michelle Yeoh delivered a speech to Harvard Law School’s Class of 2023 during the university’s Class Day ceremony at Holmes Field, Massachusetts.
On May 24, the 60-year-old Malaysian actor shared “simple pointers” that she has learned throughout her career with graduates as they embarked onto the next chapter of their lives.
“As you know, I am not a lawyer. I can’t even say that I have played one on the screen, so why am I here?” Yeoh began. “Well, maybe the reason I’m here is because I happen to have some experience leaping off high perches into scary voids.”
Yeoh gave the graduates “three easy steps” on “how to survive the fall,” noting that “learning how to fall teaches [them] how to land and learning to land gives [them] the courage to jump higher.”
The three steps are: “stay loose,” “know your limits” and “find your people.”
For the first step, the actor reflected on the uncertainty of the future as she recalled how her dream to become a dancer ended after she suffered a spinal injury. However, the change ultimately led her to “a career beyond [her] imagination.”
“When falling, the tendency is to tighten up to brace for impact. But in truth, the safest thing one can do is remain calm — even curious — about the shifting world around you,” Yeoh said.
As for the next step, Yeoh highlighted the importance of knowing one’s limitations — both internally and externally — to keep one “humble, motivated and focused on a goal.”
The actor discussed her experiences portraying action roles at a time when they were “reserved exclusively for men.” She eventually landed a role in the 1997 film “Tomorrow Never Dies” as Wai Lin, who became “instrumental in modernizing the franchise and its retrograde portrayals of women.”
“Every demeaning role I was offered, every rejection I was handed, and every time someone underestimated me, I found energy and renewed motivation,” she shared before concluding with her final piece of advice to “find your people.”
“Life is not always a zero-sum game,” Yeoh said.
For every winner, there doesn’t have to be a loser. In fact, most success stories are less about competition and more about collaboration… My achievements are the results of those around me who offered, and continue to offer, support and belief. There are times where, as much as I don’t want to let myself down, I don’t want to let them down even more.
Yeoh also turned to her experience working on the recent award-winning film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
”It brought together a community of creative and talented individuals, working with a common passion to tell a universal, human story,” Yeoh said. “This was a movie made entirely with love that was in many ways the culmination of my life’s work.”
Her final words of advice for the Class of 2023 were to, “Stay loose, be smart and go with love… and then leap. And then leap again. And then leap again.”
The ceremony was preceded with Thursday’s Commencement festivities, which featured an address by actor Tom Hanks in Tercentenary Theatre followed by a diploma ceremony at Holmes Field. The law school conferred 735 degrees to JD and Master of Laws candidates.