As actor Ed O’Neill looked out at the hundreds of capped and gowned college graduates who were waiting to hear what advice he had for them in life, he could only shrug his shoulders and smile.
“I mean, who am I kidding?” he said. “You guys just did something I was never able to do, which is graduate from college.”
The comment drew considerable laughter and was the launching point for O’Neill’s remarks during Saturday’s spring commencement ceremonies at Youngstown State University.
O’Neill, a Youngstown native turned Hollywood star of TV’s mega-hit shows “Married... With Children” and “Modern Family,” was the main speaker for the undergraduate ceremony, while retiring university President Dr. Cynthia Anderson gave the address for the graduate degree ceremony later in the day. A total of 1,228 degrees were awarded during the two ceremonies.
“I needed to get back here anyway,” said O’Neill, explaining why he agreed to be the keynote speaker.
He told of the string of failed jobs he held before eventually discovering his passion for acting, starting with roles in local theaters and at YSU. He’d fallen in love with acting, and had come to realize that if he wanted to actually make it a
career, it wasn’t going to happen in Youngstown.
“I didn’t want to go. I loved Youngstown,” he said. “But I sold my car, got on a Greyhound bus and rode to New York.”
“It’s been 37 years since I left Youngstown and, honestly, when I think of all that’s happened, I’m a bit stunned,” he said.
His message to the graduates was to persevere, even when the going gets tough.
“Never give up on yourself,” he said. “You find a way, or you go down swinging.”
O’Neill’s presence accounted for the huge attendance at Saturday’s ceremony.
For more on his remarks and the Saturday's graduates, read Sunday's Vindicator or Vindy.com.