Dartmouth University seniors threw up their caps and took their first steps into the real, adult, ominous world earlier this week. Actress, producer, writer, director, feminist, mother — and Dartmouth alumna — Mindy Kaling, gave the commencement speech.
Kaling grew to fame as an actress and producer with her role as a ditsy, lovestruck Indian woman in the Emmy Award-winning TV show, “The Office.” After making a name for herself as Kelly Kapoor, Kaling used her playwriting degree from Dartmouth to write for her own show, “The Mindy Project.” Kaling played the main character, Mindy Lahiri, who was an OB/GYN living in Manhattan, and on the hunt for the perfect man. The comedy won countless awards throughout it’s six seasons running from 2012 to 2017.
Kaling also authored two New York Times bestselling memoirs, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)“ and “Why Not Me?” Her latest performance was as Amita in “Ocean’s 8,” a heist film featuring eight extremely intelligent and sly female jewel thieves. Kaling promoted the film during the commencement speech as an example on how to cheer for oneself after graduating college.
While Kaling showcased her comedic personality by teasing Dartmouth’s stereotypes and memorable traits, underneath her jokes laid real advice for the Dartmouth class of 2018 — not that they would remember it if they were anything like Kaling at her own commencement in 2001. She started out her list of advice by claiming that advice itself is inherently useless, “Advice isn’t actually an effective way to change your life. If all it took to make your life great was hearing amazing advice, then everyone who watched TEDx Talks would be a millionaire.”
Kaling informed the graduates that they will never need more than one pancake and that they should buy a plunger before they need the plunger. With each piece of advice, her message grew more serious. She told the male graduates when they take someone on a date, pretend the date is a frightening reporter for an online publication. Then, she told the men to stop listening. She had a message for the women, “Hey girls! We need to do a better job of supporting each other.”
She also talked about the strenuous pressure that the patriarchal system puts on women that has led them to believe there are only a few spots at the top of the world for them. This has provoked women to fight each other for the best jobs and lives when they should be fighting the oppressive system together as a team. Kaling concluded the message for the ladies with, “When women work together, we can accomplish anything– even stealing the world’s most expensive diamond necklace from the Met Gala, like in Ocean’s 8.”
Fans of “The Mindy Project” might recall Kaling’s comedic portrayal of Dartmouth in the episode, “The Devil Wears Lands’ End.” This is the episode that Peter takes Jeremy to the annual Dartmouth beer pong tournament, and the two defeat the reining beer pong champion, Shonda Rhimes. Kaling mentioned Rhimes as one of the notable Dartmouth alumni in her commencement speech along with Dr. Seuss and Salmon P. Chase, the man on the ten thousand dollar bill.
As her commencement came to a close, Kaling told the class of 2018 that it is just fine if their lives do not follow perfectly with their plans and checklists. She reflected on her own post-graduate checklist for her life that hardly matched her reality at age 38, but that was actually a blessing to her. She may not have a husband to help raise her child like she planned, but Kaling claimed she is happy to have friends and family to help raise baby Catherine instead.
With disbelief in her voice, Kaling reminded the graduates, “I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, ‘Why not me?’ And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your commencement. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.”
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