Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.44.42 AMBy Steve Beard

Denzel Washington’s rousing commencement address to graduates of Dillard University was met with amens and applause. The Academy award winning actor’s May 9 speech went over well at the historically black university in New Orleans. Washington’s advice to the graduates dealt with God, failure, materialism, and gratitude.

1. Put God first: “Everything that I have is by the grace of God, understand that. It’s a gift. … I didn’t always stick with Him, but He stuck with me.”

2. Fail big: “Don’t be afraid to fail big, to dream big, but remember, dreams without goals, are just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointment. … I try to give myself a goal every day, sometimes it’s just not to curse somebody out.”

3. You’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse: “I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you. … It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with it.”

4. While you’re on your knees in the morning, say thank you: “While you’re [on your knees], say thank you. Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents, thank you for love, thank you for kindness, thank you for humility, thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity. Say thank you in advance for what is already yours … True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you sent beforehand that it’s already yours … When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up.”

Washington admitted to the graduates that 40 years ago he was flunking out of college with a 1.7 GPA. “I remember sitting in my mother’s beauty parlor [in New York] and I’m looking in the mirror and I kept seeing this woman looking at me,” recalled Washington who was a 20-year-old student at Fordam University at the time.

“‘Somebody give me a pen!,” said the woman. “I’m having a prophecy!” It was March 27, 1975. “Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people,” the woman told Washington.

“Now mind you,” recalls Washington, “I’m flunking out of college and thinking about joining the Army. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

“Well, I have travelled the world and I have spoken to millions of people. But that is not the most important success that I’ve had….I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected. I’ve kept God in my life and it has kept me humble. So stick with Him.”

Washington was raised in church. His father was a preacher who simultaneously worked for the water company during the day and as a security guard at night. The woman in the beauty parlor was Ruth Green, one of the elders in the church with the gift of prophecy.

As a young man, Washington found himself exploring Eastern philosophies and reading the Qur’an in his search for personal meaning and inner peace. In 1979, director Robert Townsend took Washington to West Angeles Church of God in Christ—a Pentecostal megachurch in South Central Los Angeles. He has been a faithful member ever since that Sunday.

Like many other artists with a spiritual yearning, Washington was tempted to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a minister. He even asked his pastor, Bishop Charles Blake, if he should become a preacher. Blake and Washington agreed that he was right where God wanted him. “So my work is my ministry,” he told BeliefNet. “I’ve always understood why I’ve been blessed to be put in this situation. And I’m more than happy to take advantage of it and to preach, if you will, about what God has done in my life.”

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.