Robert De Niro headlines Bates College commencement

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Actor Robert De Niro delivers his commencement speech Sunday morning at Bates College.

LEWISTON — Nearly 500 eager graduates gathered at Bates College on Sunday morning under beautiful blue skies to be sent off into the future by an eclectic and entertaining trio of speakers at the private liberal arts college's 146th commencement.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Robert De Niro was not the only famous person to attend the Bates College commencement. Sigourney Weaver came to watch her daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth Simpson, receive her diploma.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Thousands of people attended the 2012 Bates College commencement. Featured speakers included Robert De Niro, Bonnie Bassler and Gwen Ifill.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Thousands of people attended the 2012 Bates College commencement. Featured speakers included Robert De Niro, Bonnie Bassler and Gwen Ifill.

Thousands of family, friends and loved ones lined the school's historic quad and cheered as the Class of 2012, representing 33 states and 31 countries, made its way down the center aisle.

Featured speakers included leading molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler, actor Robert De Niro and PBS "NewsHour" senior correspondent Gwen Ifill. The three also received honorary doctorates from the college.

But it was the Oscar-winning De Niro who stole the spotlight, joking with graduates one minute, poking fun at himself and Bates at other times and ultimately settling into the serious demeanor he's best known for as an actor.

"If you're an actor, always be true to your character," a serious De Niro instructed the graduates. "If you're not an actor, then have character and always be true to yourself."

The 68-year-old De Niro dropped out of high school at age 16 to pursue an acting career. He told students his late mother would be proud of her son, who never graduated from high school or attended college, receiving an honorary doctorate. He also joked with the crowd about how his decision to drop out of school and not attend college saved about $6,000 back in the 1960s.

He joked with the crowd about how his decision today would have saved him roughly $250,000 for an education from Bates, and he got the degree anyway.

Mixed with the laughs about Bates' price tag, the students' wishing Will Ferrell was speaking instead of him, and telling students to be movie stars or "stay in school" because "the world is a scary place," De Niro offered students the same fatherly advice he said he bestowed on his own children.

"You came here, most of you, because of your values. This isn't a day for advice, it's a day for pats on the back," De Niro said. "Keep an open mind. Welcome new experiences. And don't be afraid to fail. If you don't go, you'll never know."

De Niro's message was similar to those of fellow commencement speakers Bassler and Ifill.

"When I was sitting where you're sitting, I'd been living for 22 years with a very strong internal critic," Bassler said, reminiscing about her days as a painfully shy University of California at Davis student. "I never imagined I would be this happy. I get to live a life of curiosity."

And getting there, the Princeton University professor pointedly told the crowd, came not from her degrees in biochemistry or national and international accolades for her scientific discoveries in how bacteria communicate.

It came simply from learning to say "yes" to all the challenges life presented her. Even today, as a nationally recognized scholar, she confessed to students of how she overcome her own fears about sharing Sunday's stage with the likes of De Niro and Ifill. Only by saying "yes" did she pave the way and find the courage to one day stand before future college commencement crowds by gaining the experience before the Bates Class of 2012.

"You do it by finding — or better yet — by making your own adventure. You do it by not saying 'no' because you're a afraid. There's a big difference between not doing something and not wanting to do something," Bassler said. "If I had one do-over in life, I would have learned to say 'yes' much sooner."

Bassler's rousing speech was met by a standing ovation from many in the crowd. Even Ifill, who spoke last, joked about expecting to be overshadowed by De Niro, but not a molecular biologist.

Ifill also urged students to open their minds to the world around them.

"My advice to you: look up," Ifill said. "It's so much simpler to look down. Our feet are down there. Our screens are down there. But our fears are down there, too."

The award-winning PBS journalist and author urged the graduates to take their eyes off their smartphones and computers long enough to recognize their futures and realize there is an entire world out there. A world, she added, that won't improve without them and other young people.

"If you look up, you see you have a responsibility to build a set of steps for all those behind you to catch up," Ifill said.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Thousands of people attended the 2012 Bates College commencement. Featured speakers included Robert De Niro, Bonnie Bassler and Gwen Ifill.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Bates College Interim President Nancy J. Cable, right, applauds Robert De Niro, left, as he is introduced prior to receiving his degree of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts during Sunday morning's commencement exercises at Bates College.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



Richard Begin's picture

I've Been Type Cast as a Troll

Imagine that?

Well Missy you are so swlled up about your Achievements that there is hardly any Air in the Room that you have not 'Sucked' up.

Good for you goodness knows there is always a shortage of those who need to Pat themselves on their Back

You are doinjg a Splendid Job. But Hold On Missy bryuant. did you state that you were in Arizona/ Perhaps you can join one of your Sponsors Olympia and Jock as they prepare to become at home in the land of Frank Lloydd Wright.

Ms Bryant why are you not staying in Maine to Prosper? Ha Ha ha Oh how you Young Liberals do paint everything with a Wide Brush.Now we learn that you will be decending into the Void of Emergency room medicine.
Better stock up on ER DvDs and knowing your self professed love for the Hollywood types you' be right at home with all of the other Drama queens who frequent such denizen of Poverety

Good Luck

Missy bryant

Your friendly Troll

Richard Begin's picture

Mr Forker comes to Lewoiston

Oh How Boring .Ms Bryant contineaus to Beat the Drum Ever so Slowly for the Cause known as Bates.

Good for you Missy Bryant. and good for You with your Debt Free Education. Yes there truly is the right America which is available to anyone who can make the Economic and Devlopmental grade.Missy Bryant perhaps you can reverse the Terrible trend of Huge Debt that Envelops Students with unimanageable Debt.

I'm Pulling for you

Laurie Bryant's picture

You are a troll

Wow, do you feel better now? My "drum" beats for everyone out there who goes to college, regardless which one they choose. My brother and sister got full scholarships to the University of Maine. Wanna beat up on them too??? So, so, so sad. I'd rather be thought a fool than open my mouth and prove it!! I know, you are probably thinking, "Yep, hindsight is 20/20" right about now. I am more convinced than ever that some people were dropped on this earth to perpetuate hate and discontent.

To enlighten you and your ignorance, I am (beginning on Friday, when I graduate from medical school) officially 225K in debt before interest at 7.9%. Feel better now??? I can almost hear your sigh of relief here in Phoenix. Next time you feel the need to spew your anger and discontent regarding the costs of healthcare, you can remind yourself that I do have bills to pay too. Why don't you channel your energy towards developing a solution to the costs of education (no grants in professional schools, unlike undergrad)? Since I am going into Emergency Medicine, I am going to subsidize my student LOANS by putting out a "Tip Jar" in the exam room, like you see at Starbucks and every other coffee joint across America. That's my solution. What's yours???

Also, remember every time you (and others) may run to the emergency department for a snotty nose, percocet refill, a CT scan that you dont want to wait the extra 3 days for, or back pain that has lasted 12 years, you are part of the problem.

Peace out.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

At $250 grand, the average

At $250 grand, the average L/A student can't even dream of attending Bates College. But then, a kid who graduates from CMCC usually has a pretty good chance of finding gainful employment almost immediately upon graduation. That's what it's about isn't it?

Laurie Bryant's picture

Not true!!!!!!!!!!!!

Simply NOT true. It is sad that these misconceptions still exist. I am living proof (albeit I am originally from Turner, not Lewiston.....only about 10 mi down Route 4) that "townies" can attend Bates. I left Bates with ZERO debt and received full scholarship. If you got the grades, money is not the problem....I think the problem is that people see the dollar amount without investigating the different ways to make it happen. Look and you shall find.

Congrats to the class of 2012!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Congratulations on your

Congratulations on your achievements. However, my statement stands; the average student from Lewiston/Auburn who doesn't have the grades to merit full scholarships, doesn't have a chance of attending Bates College (unless the parents are of the ' nasty' one percent we hear so much about.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Robert De Niro headlines Bates College commencement

Thanks Andie , 12.05.27 7 pm hst •
Good go , Batesies ? Yes, we can . . :)
Alo'ha from Pahoa , /s , Dr. Dosh and ohana , Bates '78 ( GWU '86 , PWU '99 )
R P C V Micro '78 and
Happy Memorial Day weekend , too
b t w - Peace Corps will delay your paying back your student loans until you get out . .HAhHAhah ! Other than that , Coast Guard is a good deal , too ?


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...