For Immediate Release: 5/16/2011
Ratzenberger: Road to Success Paved by Responsibility, Hard Work
Providence, R.I.--Harkening back to his early years as a laborer, John Ratzenberger '11Hon. told more than 1,100 members of the Providence College Class of 2011 that hard work and a sturdy moral compass can carry them to success in whatever they do.
The former Cheers star and a voice in the most groundbreaking animated films in movie history, Ratzenberger delivered the principal address during the College's Ninety-Third Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 15.
Best known for his Emmy-nominated role as Cliff Clavin in the landmark sitcom Cheers, Ratzenberger has enjoyed an acting career that has spanned more than 30 years. In addition to his roles in a number of iconic films and television series, Ratzenberger has provided a voice part in all of Pixar's feature films, including all three Toy Story movies.
From 2004-08, Ratzenberger, who is the father of Nina K. Ratzenberger'11, produced and hosted Made in America, a show on the Travel Channel that celebrated American-made products. He is the co-author of We've Got it Made in America: A Common Man's Salute to an Uncommon Country (Center Street, 2006).
Ratzenberger has served as chairman of www.childrenwithdiabetes.com, the world's largest Internet venture connecting diabetes information and research. As National Walk chairman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, he has helped raise more than $100 million for diabetes.
He is the creator of the non-profit Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation, whose mission is to inspire the next generation of engineers, artists, craftsmen, and carpenters, and has developed packaging alternatives made from biodegradable and non-toxic recycled paper.
Growth through hard work
Ratzenberger told the assembled that a character--Natty Bumppo--in James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel The Last of the Mohicans served as an inspirational figure in his life.
"I've fashioned my life using him as a template," he said. "He had a moral compass. He knew the difference between right and wrong."
After studying English in college, Ratzenberger said early jobs as a deckhand and construction worker showed him the value of work and of building various skill sets.
During one of those early construction jobs, Ratzenberger said veteran workers forced him to prove himself by having him perform the most arduous duties and by playing pranks on him--namely, by nailing the boots he was wearing at the time to the rafters.
"I knew instantly that was necessary for them to test my mettle," he said.
He added, "I always have been a fan of the Judaeo-Christian ethic that you don't have to be Jewish or Christian to follow: Be responsible for yourself and the family you create and let your work speak for you."
Ratzenberger closed by recounting a conversation he had with a corporate CEO while filming an episode of Made in America. He said the CEO told him about a young worker who was let go after just three days because of his inability to listen to anyone else.
He added that on the fourth day, the young man returned with his mother, who asked the CEO to apologize to her son for hurting his self-esteem.
Saying he grew up in a time when "not everyone earned a trophy for just showing up," Ratzenberger said people of prior generations got "a golden opportunity that gifted you for the rest of your life: the ability to handle emotional crisis."
"Parents, I ask you not to scold your kid's boss for not building self-esteem," he told the crowd. "Instead, nail your kid to the rafters and let them figure it out on their own."