The Avengers director Joss Whedon returned to his alma mater, Wesleyan University, this past weekend, not only as the commencement speaker, but as a degree recipient.
Whedon graduated from Wesleyan in 1987 and, nearly three decades later, returned to the private liberal arts institution to accept his honorary doctor of letters degree.
What is a “doctor of letters,” you ask? The degree is also called a “doctor of literature” and is often awarded as an honorary degree to those who have contributed to the humanities. Other D. Litt. recipients include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, J.K. Rowling, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Maggie Smith.
During his commencement address, he reminisced about the speech Bill Cosby gave when he graduated. He thanked Cosby for being funny and brief, but also for his rather blunt — and perhaps a bit unorthodox — life message.
“He gave us a message that I really took with me, and that a lot of us never forgot, about changing the world. He said, ‘You’re not gonna change the world, so don’t try.’ That was it,” Whedon said. “And I remember thinking… you know I think I can do better. I think I can be a little more inspiring than that.”
So what did Whedon have to say to the class of 2013?
“What I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die. … You have, in fact, already begun to die. You look great. Don’t get me wrong. And you are youth and beauty. You are at the physical peak,” Whedon told the 736 graduates. “Your bodies have just gotten off the ski slope on the peak of growth, potential, and now comes the black diamond mogul run to the grave. And the weird thing is your body wants to die. On a cellular level, that’s what it wants. And that’s probably not what you want.”
Whedon then went on to say that the contradictions between mind and mind, and the mind and itself “are the greatest gift we have.”
“This contradiction, and this tension … it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not,” Whedon continued. “If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.”
Joss Whedon wasn’t the only filmmaker to receive an honorary doctorate Sunday. Argo director and actor Ben Affleck received his doctor of fine arts degree at Brown University’s 245th commencement.
You can watch Joss Whedon’s Wesleyan University commencement speech below.