Actor Helen Mirren addressed graduates of Tulane University in a May 20, 2017, commencement speech peppered with candid one-liners and an adoration for New Orleans — a city she once called home.

"Why the hell are you graduating?" she quipped, professing her love for the Big Easy. "What possible reason is there to leave here and go find jobs?"


Between jokes, however, Mirren touched on a handful of more serious-minded subjects.

In the speech, Mirren explained why she was hesitant to call herself a feminist until only recently.

According to Mirren, she used to reject the "feminist" label. But, as she admitted behind the lectern Saturday, she'd also fundamentally misunderstood what feminism was all about.

After noting how "life improves for everyone" when women are given respect and freedoms, Mirren explained why she eventually came around to the label on a more personal level (emphasis added):

"I didn't define myself as a feminist until quite recently, but I had always lived like a feminist and believed in the obvious: that women were as capable and as energetic and as inspiring as men. But to join a movement called feminism seemed too didactic, too political.

However, I have come to understand that feminism is not an abstract idea but a necessity if we — and really by 'we,' I mean you guys — are to move us forward and not backward into ignorance and fearful jealousy."

Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP.

Learning that Mirren wasn't always a self-identifying feminist may come as a surprise to longtime fans.

Spanning five-plus decades, Mirren's extensive career in theater, TV, and film includes a handful of trailblazing roles for women, including her work in the U.K.'s "Prime Suspect" — a rare crime series that championed feminist themes in the 1990s.

Mirren in "Prime Suspect." Photo courtesy of Everett Collection/Granada Television.

More recently, stories highlighting Mirren's belief in gender equality have made waves online, too — like when she hilariously dropped the f-bomb while pointing out Hollywood's sexist casting problem, or when she refused to play nice after being asked a misogynistic question by Michael Parkinson in a resurfaced clip from 1975.

Mirren's prior hesitation to identify as a feminist reflects the unfortunately familiar disconnect between what feminism actually represents and how it's often portrayed.

Mirren starring in the stage play "Agamemnon," part one of Aeschylus' "Oresteia," in1978. Photo by Mike Lawn/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." By that standard, aren't the vast majority of us feminists? You'd think so. Yet, as one 2013 survey found, just one-fifth of Americans identify as such.

Whether through ignorance or partisanship, the word "feminist" has been mischaracterized — and badly. Feminism, in seeking to secure women the same rights men have enjoyed for centuries, has been explicitly labeled as a movement that is "anti-men." Feminists have been cast as lesbians who don't wear makeup or bras or shave their legs or underarms. And while some feminists might be lesbians who don't wear makeup or bras or shave their legs, this narrow caricature (created and perpetuated by anti-feminists, natch) has succeeded in keeping people from joining the cause even though they are feminists.

The feminist movement has, at times, had its shortfalls — like its historical exclusion of women of color and those in the LGBTQ community, for example — so it's understandable why some groups have rejected the label throughout the years. But the idea of feminism has always been one of equality and empowerment for everyone. With the success of January's Women's March and the increased commercial marketability of women's empowerment messaging (for better or worse), more people are comfortable with the feminist label — and that is welcome progress.

It's a cause Mirren believes is important enough to shout from the rooftops — or from behind lecterns.

"Now, I am a declared feminist," she told the Tulane graduates. "And I would encourage you to be the same."

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.