Tony Plana has been a professional actor in film and television for over 40 years with many roles ranging from a 19th century Mexican bandit in Three Amigos, to the Secretary of State in the West Wing, and a college cadet in An Officer and a Gentleman.
Tony Plana gives a relatable approach to graduates in the beginning of his keynote address, saying that he is the first in his family with a college degree. (Click here to watch when speech starts)
As he looks back at those successful 40 years, he traces it back toward his parents who left their country of oppression to bring him to the United States to experience freedom and the “American Dream.” He explains that his parents valued the importance of education as a way to exercise one’s freedom and that they will always be his role models.
He urges graduates to pause for a moment of gratitude and recognize those special people who helped them to be where they are today “because no one gets here alone.”
Plana believes his education has made him versatile.
“I am certain that education has allowed me to identify with characters from different backgrounds and feel comfortable navigating across income, education, and class differences,” said Plana. “I am sharing this with you because I believe it illustrates that the more education you have, the more choices are available to you as to who you can become.”
Plana further explains that he has lived his “American Dream” and that he was lucky to be blessed with opportunities with the help of God and those special to him.
“How does that happen to an 8 year old boy from a Spanish speaking country only 90 miles away but a thousand miles away culturally? I look back at my decades of success in one of the most challenging professions on the planet with amazement. Only 2% of the actors union makes a living income and only 5% of characters on television are Latinx.”
“When you consider my beginnings as a poor, immigrant, English learner, entering a radically different culture with little or no family resources, the career that followed seems miraculous.”
He tells the present graduates, "The fact that you’re graduating here today means you are well on your way to taking advantage of yours.” Plana also reminds graduates that the journey to success will never come easy.
“It’s not the bad things that happen to you that determine your life. It’s what happens inside you when bad things happen. Do they become an excuse or an inspiration, motivation? Do they defeat you or make you stronger?”
Plana further explains that no matter what career path graduates choose, how impossible or out of reach it seems, or not stereotypical, that they remember they belong there as much as anyone else. “We all belong here. No matter where we’re from.”