John Waters’ RISD Graduation Speech: Real Wealth is Never Having to Spend Time with A-Holes

John Waters' rollicking commencement speech at The Rhode Island School of Design offered up some good one-liners and a few pearls of wisdom, though phrased, quite naturally, in an irreverent way. Ready for some sage advice on what really counts as wealth? And what career choices will make you truly wealthy? Mr. Waters has this to say:

Uh, don’t hate all rich people. They’re not all awful. Believe me, I know some evil poor people, too. We need some rich people: Who else is going to back our movies or buy our art? I’m rich! I don’t mean money-wise. I mean that I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich. And not being around assholes should be the goal of every graduate here today.

It’s OK to hate the poor, too, but only the poor of spirit, not wealth. A poor person to me can have a big bank balance but is stupid by choice – uncurious, judgemental, isolated and unavailable to change.

I’m also sorry to report there’s no such thing as karma. So many of my talented great friends are dead and so many of the fools I’ve met and loathed are still alive. It’s not fair, and it never will be.

Like I said, irreverently phrased. But when stripped down to their basics, some very good principles to live by.

Watch the speech above; read the complete transcript here.

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via Dangerous Minds

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‘This Is Water': Complete Audio of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Graduation Speech (2005)


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  • marga dieter says:

    My good fortune led me to Provincetown on tuesday –
    I saw you buy groceries at the little store where i got to pick up your sales slip
    It was the touch stone – a little connection

    My lucky day – thanks for your kind smile.
    I see why A- holes don’t appeal to you.

    i appreciate you being in the world – makes it safe – marga

  • ML says:

    John Waters is vile and his films are vile. The killing of animals in movies is cruel and disgusting. Horrible old man, rot in hell.

  • Reuben says:

    Of course the killing of animals is horrible; in life OR in movies. But are you suggesting that John Waters sanctions such killing? If so, I’m
    unaware that that is so.
    I hope not.
    And what’s “old” man to do with it or with anything? Old is old, having nothing to do with your concern for the welfare of animals.

  • ignas bednarczyk says:

    So rich & poor is the judgemental level from which ideas set off ? Like, Americans & Russians, or fat people & thin. So, the contrast is made, to create two groups for comparison. O.K. theoretically, as long as you don’t take it seriously. I said your last paragraph when I was 16 in a state run 6th grade school in England. But I would not have said it in my graduation speech- my college wasn’t one which had graduation days. Just a sort of party- which I didn’t attend. It was that poor. Your saying its o.k. to hate, well…. usually that means someone is going to get hurt, which isn’t just.
    Point is, this is an insular speech from a tribal stand- the tribe of some college I’ve never even heard of, but its in Open Culture because its Rhode Island- the tribe of Rhode Island. I think Democracy came in from tribalism to unite people in larger numbers before the time of Christ so it was a tribe to begin. Genghis Khan made such a huge empire the term tribe became obsolete, because there were no other tribes to oppose it. Now who does this fellow, John Waters, oppose ? The poor ? Does he, like Lyndon Johnson, wish to follow in the steps of Genghis? Well, only on a bad day….if you twist his arm…..maybe, evil. So evil is not the concept of wealth practiced in the face of increased poverty & deprivation in America ?

  • Post Cancel says:

    This is hardly the forum from criticism Ignas. This is obviously full of rhetoric aimed at the audience it was written for. The current pop-culture art listic movement has become a hideous, under developed trash pile with such little innate skill in the artists it praises. I sometimes wonder why I spent a fortune to attend a Private University for my Sculpture and Installation degree years ago, but then I guess life wouldn’t be what it is without making mistakes. It would make sense that he would write a speech that is so obviously and purposefully over-exaggerated and then deliver it in such a factitious tone. Just a thought.

    Oh and ‘Your’ should be ‘You’re’ (as in, you are), and add a little punctuation for Fuck Sake this isn’t Twitter.

    – Cancel

  • mary says:

    Kind of ironic since hes in the land of the well known Massholes lol!

  • jay says:

    John Waters is ALWAYS ironic. But the makes some very good points here.

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