Award-winning actress Julianna Margulies delivered the Commencement address to the Sarah Lawrence class of 2010 Friday, May 21, on the College’s southern Westchester County campus.
Margulies, a Sarah Lawrence alumna who recently won “best actress” Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for her role in the CBS series The Good Wife, addressed some 340 graduating seniors and 120 graduate students receiving their master’s degrees.
Preparing to write the speech, Margulies met with a group of soon-to-be Sarah Lawrence graduates to listen to their thoughts about the future. “Part of this ‘listening’ was to prepare for this speech and part of it, selfishly, was for my two-year old son—because he has such a big stake in the actions of your generation,” she said. “I was curious to learn about the people paving the way for him. And after all my listening, I have concluded, at least here at Sarah Lawrence, our future is looking very bright, and my son and his generation are in very good hands.”
Margulies reminisced about her college days, finding common ground with the graduates in the audience. Referring to her conference work, or regular one-on-one sessions with her professors, she talked about the independent study papers she had written that have stayed with her to this day. “I didn’t have a textbook thrown at me, and a teacher telling me to ‘memorize it.’ They said, ‘Question it. Challenge it. Debate it. Think about it’…It was in our one-on-one sessions where I developed my own love affairs with authors like Flannery O’Connor.”
Describing an assignment in a literature course where she was asked to rewrite one of O’Connor’s short stories from another character’s point of view, Margulies said: “Only at Sarah Lawrence do your professors encourage, and do students have the audacity, to rewrite literary giants.”
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not call on my formal education,” said Margulies, who was cast in her first play at the College. “It was here where I was told if I wanted to be an actor I need to learn about art. And I needed to lean history. Learn science. Learn French. And so much more.”
“Sarah Lawrence” she told the newly-minted graduates, “has given you a foundation and the tools to think for yourself—which is the most important asset you’ll ever have in life. You already have everything you need to make it in this world. If you believe this degree is somehow an end of study or the step across the finish line, you’re missing the point. This education is a gift that you will be unwrapping for the rest of your life.”
Relating a personal story about turning down $27 million to continue playing Nurse Hathaway on the popular, award-winning television series ER, Margulies came to the crux of her address. “I want to share a personal story—one of those times that tested my Sarah Lawrence foundation and values…and I am sharing it with you solely in the hopes it will inspire you to stay true to your heart.” Margulies explained that at the end of her contract she felt it was time to go; she wanted to return to New York, to act in a play, to do an independent film, but was confronted with a consensus of opinion around her that she should choose to stay in L.A. for such a large sum of money. In her quest to come to a decision she came across a line in a book, “I realized my mission in life was to learn more, not earn more,” which she took to heart.
The popular actress, who went on to land a lucrative role in CBS’ The Good Wife, was not negating the benefits of making money and explained that while she hoped the graduates before her would have prosperous and thriving careers, she advised: “You will more likely find that pot of gold if you follow your passion, are driven to succeed, and open to learning more as you go.”