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Dustin Lance Black urges ‘let your freaky differences shine’ at grad speech

After being dis-invited and then invited again to give a commencement speech at Pasadena City College, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black gave an inspiring, motivational speech on Friday night.

The Academy Award-winner offers inspirational message at sold-out crowd.
The Academy Award-winner offers inspirational message at sold-out crowd.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner
The Academy Award winner brought down the house at Pasadena City College.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

In fact, it was such an amazing speech that one of the guys who initially dis-invited at the end of Lance’s speech declared, “it was one of the finest moments” ever experienced on the 90-year-old campus.

The 39-year-old Black was invited back to his alma mater that he graduated from 20 years ago, before heading off to UCLA film school, to give a speech. He was going to fly in from London for the engagement and was looking forward to it, when one of the college’s Board of Trustees got wind of the nude photos that found their way to the Internet featuring Black.

The photos came from a former boyfriend, and were sold after Black’s Oscar win and he won a $100,000 judgment against the thief and had most of the eliminated online. The students supported Black, and he wrote directly to the students for the “public shaming” that the administrators were trying to do to him. (Read this poignant letter here:

On Friday as the sun was setting on the completely filled stadium (with families and friends waiting outside), Lance walked with the Board of Trustees to the podium after being introduced by a student who called Lance his “hero,” Associated Students President Jordyn Orozco.

“I’m glad that he accepted the invite (again),” said Orozco, who presented the award-winner with a poster of “Milk” about gay activist Harvey Milk, which was signed by the students.

He opened talking about how he sometimes judges accomplishments about how hard it is to make the journey, and in this case, he said it was one of his greatest accomplishments. He had flown from London to get to the commencement after a tense few days of the invitation being withdrawn.

Ironically, Lance’s replacement was to be Dr. Eric Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who opened a dental clinic and has worked with HIV/AIDS patients, but has said in sermons (viewable online) that the gay-positive show “Will & Grace” was the “work of the devil” and that teachers who teach evolution are “Satan’s ministers,” among other things.

The college President Mark W. Rocha, Assistant Supt. Robert Bell and Anthony Fellow, president of the Pasadena Area Community College District Board of Trustees, were the ones who reneged on the invitation to Lance after the college was facing some issues and scandals among its faculty. (See: But, Lance's speech didn't talk about any of that.

Lance talked in his speech about being a budding writer facing graduation with a blank page that frightened him. He wanted to share “how I filled that black page and the lessons I learned by telling some stories,” he said.

As he spoke a rumble of feet stomping in the stadium rolled throughout and he said, “I love that, thank you whoever started it.”

He talked about how he would call his mother before he would give a speech, and how he felt different for many different ways being a Mormon closeted gay boy in San Antonio, Texas. He told about the painful moment when his mother complained about “don’t ask, don’t tell” and did not accept him. But then, she visited his out friends in college and she heard their stories and the tables turned, including her acceptance of the older grad student he was dating.

He told the story of his Hungry Jackal Productions (you will have to see the video), and he talked about his husky brother who later came out to him, and then died of cancer before he could see the positive changes in the gay world that Lance helped begin.

Lance spoke about how intolerance of racial, sexual and religious minorities were unacceptable and urged, “It must end! I’m asking you to pick up that torch and run with it.”

The passion to do so, he said, “comes from the ways you are different, not the way you are the same. We’re all different together.”

As he encouraged the grads to go celebrate, he also asked them to “think about how you are different and who you are” and “you have to rip out that shame, it is useless.”

Lance said, “Tell your personal stories.”

As he knows, that sometimes brings disagreement and judgment, but he said, “Other people’s business is none of your business. Your business is to define you.”

To thunderous applause, he said, “Get out there and let your beautiful freaky differences shine!”

(Check out the photo gallery and view video of the entire speech by clicking here.)

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