Reggie Fils-Aime, who retired from Nintendo after spending 15 years at the video game company, delivered the commencement address at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida early this morning.
The proceedings were set to begin around 5:30 a.m. ASET and was streamed live on the college’s website, as well as on Fils-Aime’s Twitter page. The retired gaming executive was expected to offer advice on leadership to the graduating students, some of whom include majors in film, motion design, and game art.
Reggie's Commencement Address for Ringling College https://t.co/fYEls8J3Nt
— Reggie Fils-Aime (@Reggie) May 9, 2019
Fils-Aime stepped down from Nintendo on April 15 after spending over a decade working at the company’s North America office. He was originally hired near the end of 2003 just a couple years after the GameCube had launched. It was just one of many periods of uncertainty for the company. But throughout all of its recent history, including the boom years of the Wii and the dark days of the Wii U, Fils-Aime provided a familiar face for Nintendo fans—a passionate salesman who nevertheless helped imbue the annual pitches with a bit of charm and heart.
“I think it should be Doctor Regginator,” Fils-Aime said upon taking the podium after being granted an honorary degree and introduced by Ringling’s president, Dr. Larry Thompson.
During his remarks, Fils-Aime outlined five key principles that he said helped guide him during his own career.
“What happens to you is up to you.”
“Life is hard so dig deep.”
“Be open to alternatives.”
“Embrace your fear.”
“Live in the moment and have some fun along the way.”
He underlined each one with his own life experiences, but none was more personal than when he shared one from his childhood growing up in the Bronx as a first generation American citizen whose parents and immigrated from Haiti.
“It was a rough neighbourhood and the area is still economically depressed today,” Fils-Aime said. “My father worked two jobs, essential 14 hours a day to scrape together enough to get our family out of the Bronx and into a small house in Long Island, New York.
He went on:
“The tipping point for our move out of this depressed area happened one Sunday morning as my family was getting ready to go to a favourite lake in northern new jersey.
As my brother and I were getting ready to walk down the five flights of stairs in our tenement building my mum pulled us aside. She said to us, ‘When we walk down the stairs I want you to look up, not down.’ ‘Do this for me,’ she implored.
So what do two boys of seven and nine years old do? We look down every step of the way, and we immediately see what my mum didn’t want us to see: drops of blood on the stairs that later became larger pools. We learned that someone had been stabbed on the roof of the building. And had bleed on the stairs as they had stumbled down five flights of stairs out of the structure. The person lived we found out, but my family was out of that building by the following summer. Life is hard.”
Fils-Aime encouraged the soon-to-be graduates to not let their fears control them, citing his own struggles with public speaking and the work he put in early on to try and master it. “We all have fears, some are rational, some are irrational,” he said. “If you let your fear control you you’ll become miserable.”
He also discussed how his own openness to different career paths after graduation helped lead him away from finance, which he had studied at Cornell, and into brand management at Proctor and Gamble, a decision he attributes with culminating in his eventual career at Nintendo.
The speech concluded with this declaration:
“You will make things that no technocrat, no Wall Street titan, no elected official, no business executive, ever will. You’ll make art that elicits an emotional reaction. A laugh, a smile, maybe even a tear. You are the creators.”
You can watch the full commencement address here.