Dartmouth grad and 'Scandal' creator says, 'Be a doer, not a dreamer'
HANOVER — Ditch the dreams and be a doer, “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes told graduates during Dartmouth College’s commencement on the Big Green Sunday morning.
A total of 1,933 degrees were awarded by the school, including 1,116 Bachelor of Arts degrees.
A 1991 Dartmouth graduate, Rhimes delivered the main address Sunday.
She was also was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts degree at the commencement ceremony.
“Your mark on the entertainment industry has indeed been profound,” said Dartmouth president Phil Hanlon as he introduced Rhimes, saying that she has changed the face of entertainment. “Even your earliest work signaled a rare talent. Your script for “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” met with commercial and critical success. ... And though your career is far from over you have already given us nothing short of a modern television institution, the highly acclaimed and long running drama ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ And your newest show ‘Scandal’ is currently one of television’s highest-rated dramas.”
When she addressed the graduates, Rhimes said she is a TV writer and doesn’t like to give speeches.
“I don’t like giving speeches because of the fear and terror,” she said. “Dry mouth, heart beats so, so fast, everything in slow motion, pass out, die.”
Rhimes said she wasn’t going to give the typical commencement speech about dreaming big, following your bliss and listening to your spirit.
“I think that’s crap. I think a lot of people dream and while they are busy dreaming the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting and engaged, powerful people are busy doing,” Rhimes said. “Dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.
"So lesson one, I guess, is ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”
Rhimes said she never once dreamed of being a TV writer.
“You know what I wanted to be? I wanted to be Nobel Prize winner author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue-skied it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I dreamed I lived in my sister’s basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives, FYI,” Rhimes said.
Then she decided to stop dreaming and go to film school.
“Years later, I went to dinner with Toni Morrison and all she wanted to talk about was ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ That never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself.”
Her second lesson to graduates was to give to a cause they believe in every week through volunteer work, not through hashtags.
Speaking as a single mother of three daughters and the show runner of three successful television shows, Rhimes said her third and final lesson for graduates is that in the balance of work and family you can’t do it all.
“Anyone that tells you that they are doing it all perfectly, they are a liar,” she said. “If I am killing it on a ‘Scandal’ script at work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am sewing my kid’s Halloween costume, I am probably blowing off a re-write I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’”
In the end, Rhimes said her success came after she traded in her dreams for hard work.
Four other honorary degrees were awarded Sunday.
Eric Foner, a DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University, was awarded a Doctor of Humane letters.
Margaret J. Geller, Harvard-Smithsonian Center Astrophysicist, was awarded a Doctor of Science.David Kelly, chairman and founder of IDEO, was awarded a Doctor of Science.
Zakes Mda, author and professor of creative writing at Ohio University, was awarded a Doctor of Arts.