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Natalie Portman delivers a powerful speech to Harvard grads about using inexperience as an asset.

"The very inexperience that in college made me feel insecure and made me want to play by others' rules, now was making me actually take risks I didn't even realize were risks."

Natalie Portman delivers a powerful speech to Harvard grads about using inexperience as an asset.

Natalie Portman delivered this year's commencement address to the graduates at Harvard University, reflecting on her own time at the school.

She attended Harvard from 1999 to 2003, earning a degree in psychology in the process. She went into school worried that maybe she didn't really belong, that maybe others believed she was only there because of her fame. ("Star Wars Episode I" had just come out, and she had roles in a handful of other movies in the years leading up to that.)



All clips via Harvard University.

But then she started in on the true theme of her speech: Inexperience can be a powerful asset.

For many students, going off to college can be a scary thing. For most, it's the first time they're away from their parents for any length of time, and it most certainly is a time of inexperience.



Inexperience and failure can guide who we are and what we look for in life.

Portman's first film was called "The Professional." She took the audience back to one of her first reviews that would go on to affect her approach toward acting.

"Ms. Portman, a ravishing little gamine, poses far better than she acts," Janet Maslin wrote in her 1994 New York Times review of the film.

Over the long run, "The Professional" would come to be considered a moderately successful cult classic, but at the time, Portman saw it as a total failure. She acknowledges, though, that to this day, people will compliment her on this role from more than two decades ago.

This experience informed the career choices she made from there on out. She was determined to be "good" and not just "done."


And this passion, combined with a bit of inexperience, is what led her to the part of a lifetime.

It's because of her inexperience that she took on a high-risk, high-reward role in "Black Swan."

"People told me that 'Black Swan' was an artistic risk, a scary challenge to try to portray a professional ballet dancer," she says. "But it didn't feel like courage or daring that drew me to it. I was so oblivious to my own limits that I did things I was woefully unprepared to do. And so the very inexperience that in college made me feel insecure and made me want to play by others' rules, now was making me actually take risks I didn't even realize were risks."

Had she known what it took to be a ballerina, maybe she wouldn't have taken that chance. Maybe she would have passed on the role. But she took it.

So, before you become too realistic about your limits, use your inexperience for what its worth. Natalie Portman did and she took home an Oscar for it.

Photo by Mark Ralston/Getty Images.

Watch Natalie Portman's full speech (it's 100% worth it) below.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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