John Waters delivered the commencement address to the Rhode Island School of Design’s class of 2015. And his wisdom was just as delightfully depraved as expected.

Waters shared all the reasons he shouldn’t be delivering a graduation day speech. Suspended from high school, arrested a few times, kicked out of college because of involvement in the first marijuana scandal on an American campus. But, to RISD’s graduating class, these transgressions read more like qualifications. After all, Waters’ declaration, “I am honored to be here today—with my people” was met with rousing applause.

During the 12 minute speech, Waters shared stories and lessons learned from his 60 years spent in the limelight. The Pink Flamingos director said that he’s been so disciplined throughout his career because if “I didn’t work this hard for myself, I’d have to go work for somebody else.” A sentiment that resonated strongly with an audience of aspiring artists.

Waters urged the new graduates to take the same sort of risks in life that he did.


To find the last seedy neighborhood Manhattan has to offer. To watch the movies panned by critics. And, when the time comes, to enlist “youth spies” to keep themselves abreast of all the en-vogue “body piercing mutilations.”


With its subtly subversive taboo themes, Waters referred to his musical Hairspray as a “trojan horse that snuck into middle America and never got caught.” He stressed that “you can do the same thing.”


Never one to beat around the bush, Waters responded to the current trigger-cautious-culture of American universities by asking, “I thought that’s why you went to college?”


Waters finished his address by demanding each student take their perspective as an outsider and make it pay off from the inside.


And be grateful that they made it there at all.