Get Ahead

Why Constance Wu says new grads should ‘recognize failure as opportunity rather than defeat’

Share
Actress Constance Wu visits Build Series to discuss the TV show 'Fresh Off the Boat' in New York City. 
Gary Gershoff | WireImage | Getty Images

Actress and comedian Constance Wu is well-known for her role in 'Crazy Rich Asians,' where she portrays a young professor on a mission to prove herself and look like she has it all together. However, during the 2022 senior convocation speech at Cornell University, Wu revealed that she hopes new graduates do the complete opposite and learn to say "I don't know."

During the opening of her speech, Wu says she struggled to find the words to say to the class of 2022.

"I was racking my brain for something and I was like, ugh, I don't know. And that's when I realized, that's it. I don't know. Those three little words are the best thing I can tell you about. Saying them can be so freeing and so telling of your character."

Wu says during the first two years of filming 'Fresh Off the Boat,' which she starred in from 2015 to 2020, she was scared to speak up about not knowing how certain things work on set.

"I was new to television because I'd been a theater kid my whole life. I didn't even know the terminology of a TV filming set," she said. "I was too afraid to ask. Too afraid to say I don't know what that means. People assumed I knew what I was doing. There was a lot of expectation, and I was constantly paranoid of being found out and fired at any moment."

Though it took Wu two years to find her voice and admit she needed help, she hopes new graduates will embrace questions and abandon fear of failure.

"It's okay to not know. It can be difficult to say when you're scared of failure, but if you recognize failure as opportunity rather than defeat, then you never fail, just find opportunities to get better."

"Admitting that you don't know or that you need help professionally, psychologically or emotionally… it's not a mark on your record, it's just part of the story of life."

 Wu, who has previously talked about struggling early in her career as an actress, also commended students for succeeding despite the impacts of Covid-19, and encouraged them to embrace the inevitable.

"Persistently and faithfully rising to the occasion, showing up when it isn't convenient, staying true to yourself even in the face of rejection and despair, well, that's often the starting point of incredible things."

"As you descend from the hill this weekend and make your way to whatever chapter awaits, knowing that you can survive big misses is exactly what might inspire the big swing that manages to connect," she told graduates. "Because it's not about failure, but what you do with it. I mean, you guys couldn't control a pandemic, you couldn't control social restrictions, but you did what you could with it. And your lives will be richer for having those tools."

Check out:

The 10 highest-rated companies for LGBTQ+ workers, according to Glassdoor

A career coach's best tips for making the most of a job fair

3 of the most common, tricky questions asked in finance job interviews—and how to answer them

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

VIDEO3:4203:42
Four tips for successfully managing new wealth