Leonard Nimoy, the actor best known for his iconic role as Spock in “Star Trek,” died at age 83 on Friday.
In 2012, he reflected on his life in a commencement speech to Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. He told the story of how a chance meeting with future president John F. Kennedy inspired him when he was at a low point in his career.
In the 1950s, Nimoy was struggling in Los Angeles with a wife and two kids, he said in his speech. He spent his days in auditions and his nights driving a taxi for steady income. One night he picked up Kennedy, who was a Massachusetts senator at the time, at the Bel Air Hotel. He said:
We chatted about careers … politics and show business, and we agreed that both had a lot in common. Maybe too much in common. He said, “Lots of competition in your business, just like in mine.” And then he gave me this: “Just remember there’s always room for one more good one.”
Words to live by, and I did.
Nimoy stuck it out in LA long enough to finally be offered the role of Spock when he was 35. To him, the character was much more than a strange alien in a sci-fi show; it was a metaphor for his experience growing up as an outsider, himself a child of Yiddish-speaking Jewish Ukrainian immigrants.
It reminded him of another Kennedy quote: “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda. It is a form of truth.”
He even used an ancient Hebrew gesture as the hand signal that became the “Vulcan salute.”
Nimoy told the graduating students that the biggest lessons he learned were that persistence matters above all, and that the public’s perception of you should not be the measure of your self-worth.
“You are the curators of your own lives,” he said. “You create your own life and work.”
He ended with Spock’s signature line, “Live long and prosper.”
You can read the full transcript here and watch the full speech below:
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