Nina Tassler: 2016 Boston University Commencement Speaker
Nina Tassler: 2016 Boston University Commencement Speaker
Thank you President Brown, fellow members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, honored guests, and graduates.Good afternoon. I am so honored to return to my alma mater and share this auspicious day with you. Earlier this year, I was organizing a dinner for new BU parents and alums in the Los Angeles area. So when President Brown called, I assumed he was calling to discuss the menu or the schedule for the evening’s events. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he was calling to invite me to speak at commencement.I was beyond flattered, confused, and immediately convinced I could come up with a better choice! He politely declined my offer and said, “Nina, tell your story. I think your personal journey is inspiring and relatable.”I am not sure how inspiring or relatable my journey has been, but I can guarantee that you are far better prepared to begin your career than I ever was. My passionate ambitions at graduation now seem so unlikely to lead me to where I am today.In coming to speak with you this afternoon, I reflected on the emotional roller coaster I felt when I sat in your seat; but I distinctly recall first feeling grateful – grateful that I had actually graduated– and second, terrified – terrified that I had graduated. I suspect you feel the same way.I hope you are grateful to your parents for not just paying your tab at ‘The Dugout” or keeping your Starbucks app filled, but grateful to have arrived at this moment with the love and support of all family and friends, many present and some sadly long gone, who stood by your side to give thanks and express gratitude on this day and each day going forward; to the people who have selflessly helped you and will make you a better, happier person.
Dealing with the fear I felt and have felt too often since, well – that’s a little trickier. It will most likely reveal itself in different forms throughout your life: be it fear of failure, or fear of success, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection or fear of shame – accepting fear head-on is freeing. As my hero Eleanor Roosevelt said, “When you have the strength, courage, and conviction to look fear in the face, you are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”The best antidote to fear is your curiosity, passion, and creativity. The steps you take from this moment on, the same steps I took some forty years ago, should be, as shared by Erica Jong, “To accept fear as a part of life – specifically the fear of change. I have gone ahead despite the pounding in my heart that says: turn back.” Embracing change and confronting fear will serve you well. I believe I had embraced elements of that philosophy, but it was my time at BU that gave me the strength to challenge these insecurities.Over the course of my life and career, that frightened voice, that pounding in my heart, has been ever present, yet I have never turned back. So I hope in sharing my story, there is solace in knowing that fear can be a normal and highly motivating part of your journey.
我如何從擁有波士頓大學表演學位的畢業生－是的，表演學位－成為廣播電視史上任期最長的女性電視台主管？然而，是何種膽大妄為的心態讓我離開這個得之不易的職位以及30年的電視界職業生涯，追求截然不同的雄心壯志，投身非營利事業、出版書籍，一本關於身為領導者的母親如何培養女兒成為下一代女性掌權者的短文合集。「膽識過人」，也有人說我「瘋狂」。我這種評估情況、重設職業生涯目標的能力始於我來到波士頓大學的第一天。新生入學時，父親開著鑲嵌仿木紋飾板的福特Country Squire旅行車載我從佛羅里達來到波士頓，我們帶著我的打包箱和手提行李踏上位於布魯克萊恩卡爾頓街37號一間精緻褐石屋的樓梯，當我們在宿舍裡尋找我的房間時，我注意到每扇門上都貼著小花形狀的剪紙，每朵花都寫著名字女性的名字，只有女性的名字。我很快意識到我的宿舍是校園裡僅存的幾棟純女子宿舍之一，這是在開玩笑嗎？當時是1975年，早在1973年，全美就有30個州通過男女平權修正案，男女混住宿舍已遍佈美國校園。我是堅定的女權主義者，波士頓婦女健康圖書協會早在1971年出版《我們的身體，我們自己》這本書，這棟宿舍是怎麼回事？我只能隨遇而安，尤其是因為房間很大地下室還有一間小餐廳，你可以想像這在波士頓的寒冬裡是多麼美好的事。最重要的是，我在Brooke Hall遇見的朋友和室友有些成了我至今最好的朋友。
How did I go from graduating from BU with a degree in acting – yes, a degree in acting – to becoming the longest running female network chief in the history of broadcast television?And then, humbly, what kind of chutzpa does it take to step away from that hard won position and a 30 year career in television to pursue different creative ambitions, devote myself to non-profit causes, and to publish a book; a collection of essays from mothers in positions of leadership on raising their daughters to be the next generation of empowered women?“Ballsy” – or so I have been told, “crazy” too.My ability to assess a situation and reset my career GPS started my first day at BU.When I arrived on campus as a freshman, my father drove me in our faux-wood-paneled country squire station wagon from Florida to Boston. We carried my boxes and single suitcase up the stairs of a really nice brownstone at 37 Carlton Street in Brookline.As we walked by the doors looking for my room, I noticed little cut-out flowers made of construction paper on each door. There were names written on each flower – women’s names – only women’s names. I very quickly realized that my dorm was one of the few remaining all girls dorms on campus.Are you kidding me?This was 1975. By 1973, 30 states had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment – co-ed dorms were on campuses across the country, I was a dedicated feminist, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was published in 1971 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. What was going on?I made the best of my situation, especially since the rooms were big and we had a private dining room in the basement – which as you can imagine was fabulous during the bitter Boston winters. Best part of all, the friends and roommates I had while at Brooke Hall are some of my best friends to this day.
70年代在波士頓大學唸書讓我感覺像身處宇宙中心，儘管藝術學院可說是一座孤島。我選修的多半是音樂、戲劇相關課程，當我沿著聯邦大道前往其他校區探索時，我的世界豁然開朗。選修埃利．維瑟爾的納粹大屠殺課程，或聆聽愛德華．阿爾比的演講，甚至參加抗議學費上漲的集會，當時的校長John Silber，當時的校長John Silber對我們的要求做了「不怎麼熱情的回應」。無論我當時是否瞭解或之後是否意識到我的目標逐漸改變，我對自己的認知也不斷成長。我就讀大學時只有一個確定的目標：學習表演、前往紐約、在百老匯工作，看似相當明確。我在波士頓大學接受的教育與培訓是世界級的，但我還欠了波士頓大學一份永遠還不清的情，那就是我的丈夫，波士頓校友傑瑞．萊文。1975年，我們還是大一新生時在藝術學院相遇，1984年結婚。當我們還在學校時，傑瑞「聘用」我擔任他製作的音樂劇的助理導演。我們不僅體會到從無到有共同創作出某樣東西的喜悅，我們也墜入愛河。經歷32年的婚姻生活，擁有2個漂亮的孩子後，家庭依然是我們生活的基石。我已做出職業生涯的選擇－表演，遭受拒絕在這一行是家常便飯，我有信心堅持到底嗎？
Being at BU in the ‘70s felt like I was at the epicenter of the Universe. Although the College of Fine Arts was an island unto itself and I was enrolled in a conservatory-like curriculum, when I ventured out onto Commonwealth Avenue to other parts of the University, my world exploded.Taking a Holocaust class taught by Elie Wiesel or listening to lectures by Edward Albee or even attending a rally protesting tuition hikes where then-president John Silber had “less than an enthusiastic” response to our demands. Whether I knew it then or would come to realize it much later, my goals were shifting, and the person I always felt I was, was evolving too.I came to college with only one defined goal: study acting, move to New York, and work on Broadway. Seemed pretty straightforward. The education and training I received at BU was world class, but I will also be forever in BU’s debt for my husband, fellow alum, Jerry Levine. We met as freshmen in 1975 at CFA and married in 1984. While in school together, Jerry “hired” me as his assistant director on a musical review he was producing. Not only did we experience the thrill of creating something together from nothing, we also fell in love. After 32 years of marriage and two beautiful children, family is still the foundation of our lives.I had chosen a profession – acting – that was rife with rejection. Would I always have the confidence to persevere?
My family was unconventional: I am the daughter of a Jewish father and a Puerto Rican mother. Would I face discrimination and anti-semitism?I wore my feminism like a badge of honor – after all BU was the first University to open all its divisions to female students – would I encounter sexism?And what about my politics? I had been active in political campaigns my whole life: as a kid being enlisted to lick envelopes at the campaign headquarters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern. Would I always maintain my commitment to activism? Would I ever work for a candidate that won? Thankfully – thankfully! – the answer to these questions was: yes. However, it was not until I moved to Los Angeles and horribly struggled to find work as an actor, that the answers to those questions would be revealed.I pounded the pavement to find a job just to pay the bills until my acting career took off. Taking typing tests, pouring over the ‘help wanted’ pages, networking, anything, anywhere! My roommate from school and best friend to this day, Geena Davis – again, thank you, BU – set me up on a general meeting with her agent. After that meeting, I thought – hey, I can do this, I can be an agent at least until my big break as an actor!I knew the questions actors would ask – about auditions, acting, and material. I knew how to talk to casting directors, producers, and writers. After all, I had been introduced to all these things in acting school! I finally landed a job as a receptionist – yep, a receptionist – getting coffee, handing out bathroom keys, taking phone messages, making photocopies – all the really good stuff. Panic began to rise that this might be the highlight of my show business career, but I desperately tried to exude confidence. Soon after, a friend referred me to an agent at a large, prestigious talent agency – at the time, one of the four biggest agencies in the world. This was a pivotal time in my life and career.
I had been preparing, working toward a career as an actor, but here I was with an opportunity of a lifetime that required my abandoning my dream and working toward a new reality. This is when the first major existential crisis hit. If I became an agent, did that mean I had failed as an actor? I found myself learning from some of the most experienced agents in the business and working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood: from Morgan Freeman to Julie Andrews to Bruce Willis. Yet, there were still challenges ahead. All over Hollywood, I was exposed to sexist and derogatory language used to describe actresses and female agents – the myth of a casting couch: not a myth after all, but a scandalous reality. My commitment to feminism was pushing me further and further away from a career as an agent.I had increasing doubt about the current state of my so-called “career.” How was I going to thrive, let alone just survive in a business where sexism, racism, nepotism, narcissism, cronyism, and every other nasty “ism” you can think of had reared its ugly head to me at one time or another? This was the time to persevere – to find a way to fight against the prevailing culture and look for a way to have more influence over the status quo, but insecurity and doubt crept into my psyche. I realized that fear can serve two masters – it can paralyze or motivate.
I heard about a job opening in development at Warner Bros. Television – I believed I’d be able to access the training, knowledge and discipline from my training at BU, combined with my acquired business and sales experience as a talent agent, to pursue what I hoped would be a career-defining opportunity. It would be at warner brothers where I would spend my days in the trenches, listening to writers tell stories, watching actors audition, reading new material, and scouring articles to come up with new ideas for TV shows.Then, I got to sell them to one of the five television networks.I loved this process! And I realized that sometimes the career you end up with has no logical connection to where you began! Witnessing the creative and therapeutic benefits of change was an epiphany.One of my favorite stories from this time was the origin of the longtime hit series, “ER,” which I was fortunate to have been a part of.“ER” was originally a movie script called “EW” by Michael Crichton based on his experiences as a resident. The script was roughly 120 pages, had over 80 speaking parts, and had more medical dialogue than you can imagine. The trick was taking this massively dense feature script and turning it into a relatable pilot that would serve as a comprehensive introduction to this medical world and its characters. If not for the genius of writer/producer John Wells who saw to the exquisite literary sculpting of the script and the extraordinary chemistry of that cast, the show might never have seen the light of day.I still remember when George Clooney – yes, George Clooney – who’d been under a deal with warner bros that had already produced four busted pilots with him – walked into my office, sat down and questioned me on the fate of the script called “ER.” He loved the part of Dr. Doug Ross, but he’d been offered a competing project at NBC and worried that “ER” was dead. There was no way I could assuage his concern for the fate of the project. I shared with him that I had no tea leaves, I had no crystal ball, but had faith in the material and the process. Even George Clooney was scared! “ER” went on to run for 15 years, becoming the longest running primetime medical drama in American TV history. It won 13 Emmy awards and received 124 Emmy nominations – which makes it the most nominated drama program in history. Long story short – “ER” was a huge success. And I think George has done just fine!
The final chapter, or shall I say most recent, phase of my career, has been the most transformative.I joined CBS in 1997, when the network was in last place. In terms of the Hollywood food chain, network television was the big leagues; but I was also essentially starting over again – still making key creative decisions, but as a buyer of content as opposed to being a seller.I was grateful to be in a position to push back against the many “isms” that still plagued our business. I could hire more women, I could hire more people of color and expand a dedicated diversity division, creating programs and opportunities for those historically underrepresented within our industry.Now, all of this not without risk: the shelf life for a network executive was legendarily short-lived. I would be judged daily on success or failure based on ratings – the risk of being fired was an absolute daily reality. It was also a bittersweet irony to find myself at the “Tiffany” network as my father, who’d recently passed away, had been an audio engineer at CBS in 1955. Although he did not live to witness my accomplishment, I have felt him by my side every day. I have made CBS my home for close to 20 years. I began as vice president of drama series development and rose through the ranks to president and ultimately chairman of CBS Entertainment in 2014. I was responsible for the overall management of every day part in the entertainment division.Having been part of CBS’ resurrection as the #1 network gives me great pride. Over the years, I bought and developed some of the most successful shows in television history – from “C.S.I.” to “The Big Bang Theory” to “The Good Wife.” Once again, the creative point of origin for these shows is dramatically different from how they will be remembered.
Our business is undergoing a seismic transformation.From streaming, to content creation, delivery systems, multi-platform programming, cord cutting, virtually an entirely new vernacular with an ever-evolving and emerging new revenue model.It’s been a revolution, not an evolution.No doubt you will encounter people through the course of your life who will seem to have it all figured out. I know I did!They may even offer you a tutorial on how to walk, talk, and dress for success.Only half listen.Because each of you, each of you, has invested in yourselves, you’re chock full of knowledge, but more importantly you’ve written an important chapter of your lives’ story: your wholly unique and personal experience at BU – from living on your own for the first time, to relationships and friendships that I hope will last a lifetime, to lessons learned and obstacles overcome.
We don’t know where we’ll end up, but making moments matter – taking a step back to see something from a different vantage point and investing in your core values can lead to a world of surprises.
What matters most through this whole journey is, to quote Gilda Radner, “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”The odds were stacked well against me: a middle class Jewish/Puerto Rican kid from a quasi-hippie family; a woman finding her way through a predominantly male industry, clutching a Bachelor of Fine Arts in a world of folks with law degrees and M.B.A.s, ultimately working in a business where failure is a key factor in the formula for success. It’s inconceivable that I should be standing before you. When I told my mother, who never attended college but worked at the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences, that I would be speaking today, we both started crying.On this momentous day, you are starting your next chapter. I really believe it will be a best seller, a big hit and a critical success.Don’t be afraid to edit your dreams and rewrite the story of what you want to do in life. Cherish who you are.And may I leave you with two final thoughts? Kindness does not mean weakness; and you can’t make mistakes in your twenties.My sincerest congratulations to each of you in the Class of 2016. It is such an honor to be here today, and I wish you a beautiful life. Thank you so much.