Watch Kumail Nanjiani’s Grinnell College Commencement Address on Failure, Empathy, and Change
Earlier this week, Kumail Nanjiani headed to his alma mater, Grinnell College in Iowa, to deliver the 2017 commencement address, and like Will Ferrell and Maria Bamford’s recent college appearances, the speech is well worth the watch. Nanjiani tells the graduates what it was like moving from Pakistan to Iowa and how attending Grinnell ultimately changed his perspective of the US from a place he felt trapped in to his new home. “When I came to Grinnell I was a devout Muslim who had never romantically touched a girl and I was going to get a degree that guaranteed me a job,” Nanjiani says. “By the time I graduated I was basically a Rastafarian with a white American girlfriend and a philosophy degree. College changes you, is my point.” He also looks back on moving to Chicago, getting into standup, auditioning for TV roles, meeting his wife Emily, and more. Here’s an excerpt from the address, where he offers the grads some advice on failure:
You can go slow. There is no rush. Allow your dreams and goals to change, but live an intentional life. Think: “Am I doing what I want to be doing every day?” And be okay with failing. That’s what I learned getting rejected at all these auditions: Nobody is paying attention to your failure. The world is full of people failing; people are failing all around you. Failure is boring. Your failure will not be so spectacular that people will write articles about your failure. Only you will remember your failure. Unless you’re the person that made the Samsung Galaxy S7 – those are the phones that literally explode. Everyone knows that person’s failure. Because here’s the big secret I’ve learned in the last few years: Nobody knows what they’re doing. Nobody does. Everybody’s winging it out there. Some people are just better at pretending to be confident because nobody’s done – nobody’s cooked. People are constantly evolving and growing and changing.
As someone who has experienced plenty of racism and initially felt like an outsider in the US, Nanjiani also offers the graduates some advice on befriending different kinds of people, being empathetic with everyone, and how keeping an open mind even to things you don’t agree with helps you grow:
We cannot expect others to understand our point of view if we don’t understand theirs. And it’s uncomfortable and awkward and infuriating and it hurts your brain, but with that pain can come growth and real change. Being a fish out of water is tough, but that’s how you evolve. I think that’s scientifically accurate — I don’t know, I had a liberal arts education.
Watch Nanjiani’s full speech above.