Robert De Niro talks to graduates, gets honorary degree at Bates College

Excerpt: "If you're an actor, always be true to your character. If you're not an actor, have character and always be true to yourself." Photo: Actor Robert De Niro delivers his commencement speech at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, on May 27, 2012. AP Photo/The Lewiston Sun-Journal, Russ Dillingham

Robert De Niro delivers his commencement speech at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, May 27, 2012.
AP/The Lewiston Sun-Journal

(CBS/AP) LEWISTON, Maine - Robert De Niro received an honorary doctorate and addressed graduates at Bates College on Sunday, telling them that despite his own lack of formal education, he made out OK.

During a 15-minute address that was both sincere and irreverent, the Oscar winner drew a steady stream of laughter from the 463 graduating seniors and more than 5,000 onlookers at the private, liberal arts college's campus.

Pictures: Commencement speakers 2012

De Niro, who left high school to pursue an acting career, was one of three high-profile guests who received honorary degrees at the Bates commencement. PBS "Newshour" senior correspondent Gwen Ifill and Princeton University molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler also were honored.

But it was De Niro who stole the show as he received an honorary doctorate of fine arts degree.

"In many ways, leaving school when I did it was an advantage. I saved nearly $6,000 by not having to pay tuition and expenses for four years of education," he said. "I feel a little foolish, because if I had waited until now not to go to college, I could have saved around a quarter of a million."

Looking back, he said, "it worked out just fine. I saved the money, and I got the degree."

De Niro also offered the graduates some serious advice.

"If you're an actor, always be true to your character," he said. "If you're not an actor, have character and always be true to yourself."

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