It is no secret that Reese Witherspoon is committed to portraying strong women. Throughout my life, I have been influenced by her characters. From Elle Woods to Cheryl Strayed to June Carter, Reese knows just how to develop characters that touch hearts, especially mine. But then you hear Reese speak as Reese and you realize the reason she’s so skilled at these roles is because she is a strong, smart, deeply impactful woman herself.
This past November, Reese returned to Nashville, Tennessee, to speak at her high school alma mater, Harpeth Hall School, an all girls boarding school. Her speech has been re-printed and circulated online and while reading it I couldn’t help but wish I could time travel and give these words to high school me. They are essential, and filled with encouragement and advice.
Reese starts by addressing her former self about a variety of mistakes many of us probably made at that age — bands we liked, parties we went to, peer pressure we gave into. She acknowledges that there’s no way she can change her past so instead she opts to share what she learned from these experiences.
“Here’s the best advice I can give to anyone about the future: be curious. If you’re curious, you’ll never be bored.”
She continues by talking about her confusing time in college. Both her parents were doctors so she naturally began by following in their footsteps. But as many of us have discovered, the heart wants what the heart wants, and for Witherspoon, it was not medicine.
“I could not stop telling stories . . . By the time I was a sophomore at Stanford, I knew more about storytelling than about anything medical, and I realized it was OK not to do what my family did. I could do something completely different. But I had to be brave.”
She talks about the importance of being brave in high school — how taking classes out of your comfort zone and listening to your teachers are valuable parts of the experience. She even credits her high school English classes as the reason behind her ability to delve so deeply into each role and admits she failed her high school calculus class. She shares this to underline the essence of failure and its significance.
“There is nothing wrong with failure. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes . . . Perfectionism is for the birds. It’s not realistic. It is stressful. And it really gets you nowhere . . . You don’t learn anything from being perfect . . . I have chosen the wrong movies and the wrong friends and the wrong boyfriends, and all of those mistakes have taught me more about myself than a lot of my successes.”
At this point, she delivers a variety of impactful advice: admit to your screws up, do what you love, work hard, and don’t be afraid to discuss money. She talks about it all. But what she ends with is perhaps the most important part of the whole speech.
“If you want to have influence in this world, have your own political ideas . . . Even if no one agrees with you . . . Everyone’s different perspectives are important, we need your participation. Each of your ideas is unique and important in this world. Get off the sidelines and put yourself in the game. Don’t stand to the side and ask to be invited.
“You are in a position of power in this world. You are educated. You are free. You are curious and capable. So be brave. Travel to other countries where you don’t know the language. Read a book about genetics; it will inform your future. Challenge yourself physically. Climb a mountain — and I don’t mean a metaphorical mountain. I mean go outside and get up that mountain. I’ve done it. It’s hard! But it’s worth it. And please don’t worry about being cool.”
Where was this speech when I was in high school?
Check out all of Reese Witherspoon’s fantastic speech here and be ready to feel inspired enough to chase after your dreams. Every single one of them.
[Image via Shutterstock]