Shonda Rhimes Gets Real with Dartmouth Grads

by Maitri Suhas

Shonda Rhimes addressed the 2014 class of Dartmouth on Sunday, and her speech was Olivia Pope AWESOME. It's no surprise that Rhimes, the creator of the empire of Shondaland, Grey's Anatomy, and Scandal gave an incredibly funny, witty and well-written speech, but as far as commencement speeches go, it was definitely unconventional. Her main thesis, in college vernacular? "Dreams can suck it," she told the grads.

When Rhimes, who graduated from the Ivy League university in 1991, came up to the lectern to begin, she first noted her initial terror and hesitation when the Dartmouth president asked her to deliver the address — she felt overwhelming fear and terror. "I feel like I'm going to pass out, die, poop my pants," she noted. She's nothing if not disarming. Like many commencement speakers, Rhimes' had lessons to impart — but hers were sobering, real, and eye-opening.

Let's take a look.

Lesson 1: Stop dreaming.

It might be surprising that the successful creator of Olivia Pope would tell college graduates to let go of their dreams, but Rhimes told the grads that when she was at Dartmouth, her dream was not to be a television writer, but to be Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison.

Dreams are lovely, but they are just dreams, fleeting, ephemeral, pretty... it's hard work that makes things happen. Ditch the dream. Be a doer, not a dreamer. The truth is, it doesn't matter [if you don't know what your passion is]. You just have to keep moving forward, you have to keep doing something.

She revealed that while she was dreaming (or "blue-skying it," as she called it), Rhimes lived in her sister's basement, which is where she decided to go to UCLA film school. And years later, she had dinner with Toni Morrison — who only wanted to talk about Grey's Anatomy. Rhimes highlighted the importance of getting your head out of the clouds and getting down to work, any work.

Lesson 2: Don't be an asshole.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"I was painfully hungover during my commencement — I was doing upside down margarita shots the night before," Rhimes told the grads. Because she was grieving the loss of her college experience; she knew enough of the real world to know that in college you were special, and in the real world, college graduates are just the bottom of the heap. (Apparently she cried on the floor of her dorm room while her mother packed it up, which should make us all feel better).

Tomorrow is going to be the worst day of your life. Hard is relative, so don't be an asshole.

Rhimes reminded the grads that the real world is a rough place that is unforgiving. But, she made sure to hammer home that the students are "incredibly lucky" to be able to earn an Ivy League education while elsewhere in the world, girls are harmed for wanting to learn.

Lesson 3: Anyone who tells you they are doing it all perfectly is a liar.

Mark Mainz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Rhimes finished her speech by talking about trying to balance her life as an extremely busy and prolific television writer, all while being the single mother to three girls.

I'm going to answer the question "How do I do it all" honestly for the first time: I don't. Whenever you see me succeeding in one area of my life, I'm inevitably failing in another.

And that's okay, she reminded the grads. Because even though getting awards for Scandal means she might be missing something with her daughters, or putting in extra family time means she's missing a rewrite, Rhimes has created a world for her daughters in which women own television empires.

And the best advice Rhimes imparted? That her dreams did not come true, and that's totally fine.

My dreams did not come true. but I worked really hard and I ended up building an empire out of my imagination, so my dreams can suck it.

She proved that sometimes hard-won reality can be better than anything we can dream, but we need to work really, really hard to create something. We can't rest our laurels on imagination. It's okay to not know exactly what your passion is and what your goals are, as long as you're working hard for something.

The speech is worth a watch (and Shonda Rhimes says "poop" like, five times, which is amazing).