Oscar Winning Easton Native Gives Commencement Speech
"Be ready for adventure," Roger Ross Williams tells NCC graduates.
Success in life does not necessarily come by moving in a straight line toward a specific goal, an Oscar winning director from Easton told the winter graduates of Northampton Community College during commencement on Saturday.
“The road to success and happiness is filled with many twists and turns,” said Roger Ross Williams, who won the 2010 Academy Award for best short documentary film, “Music by Prudence.”
“You have to be ready to explore. You have to be ready for adventure.”
Williams is in a unique position to give advice these graduates. He graduated from Northampton in 1983.
The college handed out 707 diplomas during the ceremony inside the Spartan Center at the college's main campus. Eleven of the students are international, coming from 10 countries. The youngest graduate was 17, the oldest was 73, said school President Arthur L. Scott, who introduced Williams.
“When I sat here, way back in 1983, I had no idea where life was going to lead me,” Williams said. “I had a dream … but not much of a plan.”
Initially, he followed his single mother’s dream and took pre-law courses. But he didn’t find that fulfilling. He was always looking for “adventures,” he said. “I thought I was just unfocused.”
Even as a child, he said, he enjoyed storytelling. He would create characters and write stories. He decided to pursue a career in television news. He worked for NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, The Today Show, ABC News, CNN and Barbara Walters.
“Every day, I would go out into the world and try to learn something new,” he said.
It was a constant process of self reinvention, he told the graduates. He said he found he wanted to tell stories that were “closer to his heart.”
Ultimately, he found Prudence Mabhena, a young Zimbabwean woman who had been born with a disfigured spine and severe disabilities. Yet, she had overcome her disability, poverty and discrimination to become a singer and songwriter.
Williams’ film about Mabhena was received international attention and critical acclaim, earning the Oscar. More than that, Williams said, he learned from the experience e of spending time with Prudence, who always “stayed true to herself.”
“When people didn’t think much of her disfigured body, she opened their eyes with her beautiful singing,” Williams said. Now, with her new-found fame, she has used the international spotlight to draw attention to other disabled youth.
“Prudence’s life is an adventure,” Williams said. And Williams has found his “greater calling.” He is a documentarian. His current project is a feature about the African American Baptist Church.
He described his path as a process of taking life one step at a time, of “growing and learning who you really want to be.”
“Nobody gets to where they want to be by following a straight and narrow path,” he said.