“You’re on the clock.”
That’s how Iowa native son and big-time movie star Ashton Kutcher began an intimate and personal commendation address delivered Friday to about 320 University of Iowa honors students graduating this weekend.
Prerecorded earlier this week from a dark corner of his California home — wearing an orange bandanna and a 5 o’clock, or maybe 6 or 7 o’clock, shadow — Kutcher imparted on the graduates his own hard-earned life lessons about the need for a plan as they begin their post-commencement journey.
He also urged the need to be willing to scrap the plan — or at least amend or revise it — as life tends to throw curve balls, along with punches.
“Plan on weird (expletive) happening,” Kutcher said. “Right now, I’m in quarantine in California. You don’t have a graduation. The world’s gonna throw curve balls. It’s just gonna happen that way. So plan on it happening.”
Plan on surprises — including who and what you become. Plan on testing new waters and taking risks. Plan on meeting new people — including those you disagree with — “without trying to convince them that they’re wrong so that you can be right.”
Plan on being influenced by them.
“The people that I disagreed with when I was younger got a lot smarter when I got older,” he said. “Now I’m not saying that they got right … but in many cases, in most cases, the justification behind their reasoning became a lot more intelligent.”
Plan on working hard — and needing to.
“You’ll read in the news and hear about people who have these overnight success stories — trust me, everything you read in the news is an anomaly. That’s why it’s news. If it happened every day, it wouldn’t be news,” he said. “Most of the people that I know that are successful in this world, got there the old-fashioned way. And chances are, you will too.”
Plan on thinking big and running into walls.
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“Come up with big, giant, ambitious ideas, because the world needs them,” he said. “But a word of caution, ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive. So hold your ideas, until you’re ready to defend them. And be ready for people to try to tear you down. Sometimes they will. And it hurts.”
That’s why having a purpose matters, he said, hearkening back — perhaps — to what brought him before the virtual crowd of UI students in the first place.
Kutcher befriended UI honors professor David Gould years ago — popping in on one of his classes back in 2011. When the world — including academia — turned upside down this spring amid COVID-19, Gould scrambled to reconfigure for the internet a version of his class, which was heavily reliant on its in-person component involving guests and visitors.
He reached out to Kutcher as a possible virtual visitor, but Kutcher’s response came too late. With classes wrapped for the semester, Gould asked Kutcher whether he instead might share a commencement message.
And it arrived in Gould’s inbox at 1 a.m. Tuesday.
“He really wanted to get it right for the students,” Gould said, noting Kutcher offered to do additional takes or make changes — although Gould told him not to change a word.
At the start of his address, Kutcher shared with students his original “solid” life plan — including graduating from college with a degree in biochemical engineering, landing a well-paying job as a geneticist, getting married “once,” having some kids, settling down, and retiring early.
“And the only thing that provided me with an opportunity to be where I am today was a willingness to throw out the master plan,” he said. “I didn’t throw out the hard work. I didn’t throw out the morals. I didn’t throw my goals. I didn’t throw my ambition, my drive, my experience. I just threw out the master plan.”
Kutcher told the students they might not need to do that. But be willing. Have an open mind.
“You don’t ever have to know what you want to be when you grow up,” he said. “And the truth is, even if you think you know who you are right now, you’re probably wrong.”
He told the students to be curious and cautious about the way they view themselves.
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“You’re not who everyone else thinks that you are,” he said. “In fact, you’re probably not who you think you are. And your life will definitely not go as planned.”
So if you lock in your master plan, you might miss potential highlights.
“There are very few choices that you’re going to make in your life that are permanent,” Kutcher said. “So try things. Try all kinds of things. And always be in pursuit of the better view.”
But be warned, Kutcher said, one thing you can count on: the erosion of time, tipping its supply-and-demand scale.
“As you get older, you’re going to realize the true supply-demand curve of time,” he said. “And you’ll know that it’s only becoming in more limited supply. And the demand is only becoming greater.”
So, he said again, “Clock starts now.
“What’s your plan?”
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