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Portman’s Commencement Speech Is Very Real, Very Harvard

‘Jewish mother that I am’ cites A.B. Yehoshua and Menachem Begin

Jonathan Zalman
May 28, 2015

On Wednesday, Natalie Portman, who graduated from Harvard University in 2003, offered her wisdom to graduating seniors as Class Day speaker. “It’s genuinely one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been asked to do,” Portman said.

In the speech, Portman addressed the release of her emails on Wikileaks, and how she may or may not have been “hungover or freshly high” during Will Ferrell’s speech to her graduating class. She also touted her upcoming Hebrew-language directorial debutA Tale of Love and Darkness.

She also revealed the insecurities she felt as a Freshman at Harvard in the Fall of 1999, and other “dark moments” thereafter, “some combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth control pills that have since been taken off of the market for their depressive side effects, and spending too much time missing daylight during winter months.”

Portman also shared an anecdote about her soon-to-be 4-year-old son at an amusement park, playing arcade games. “He was incredibly focused, throwing his ball at the target,” she said. “Jewish mother that I am I skipped 20 steps. I was already imagining him as a major league player…” Her son, she realized, was playing the game to earn tokens so that he could turn them in for another prize.

But “prizes,” Portman warned the graduates, “serve as false idols everywhere.”

Finally, she told graduates to remember from time to time that “you are not the center of the universe.”

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.