CAMBRIDGE >> In a world full of villains, Harvard University graduates must become the heroes, filmmaker Steven Spielberg told the 2016 class during a commencement address Thursday.
Spielberg invoked stories from his films and his life as he encouraged the graduates to take on the world's woes.
"A hero needs a villain to vanquish, and you're all in luck," he said. "This world is full of monsters. There's racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred. There's political hatred and there's religious hatred."
The answer, he told graduates, is to question voices of authority, to seek "defining character moments" in their own lives and to learn from the past.
"The way you create a better future is by studying the past," he said. "Atrocities are happening right now, and so we wonder not just, 'When will this hatred end?' but 'How did it begin?' "
He told how he was bullied as a child for being Jewish, and he warned that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise. To combat them, he urged students to listen to others' stories and to share their own.
"The only answer to more hate is more humanity," he said. "We have to replace fear with curiosity."
Spielberg has won Oscars for best picture and best director for "Schindler's List" and best director for "Saving Private Ryan." One of his earliest hits, "Jaws," was filmed primarily on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.
He dropped out of California State University Long Beach in the 1960s to take a job at Universal Studios but later returned and earned a degree in 2002. He did it to stress the importance of education to his children.
"Some go for their parents, but I went for my kids," he said. "It helped that they gave me course credit in paleontology for my work on 'Jurassic Park."'
Early in his career, Spielberg focused on making escapist movies conjured from his imagination, he said. Later, he learned the power of creating movies based on historical events, however horrific. It gave him a sense of mission, he said.
"I hope you all find that sense of mission," he said. "Don't turn away from what's painful. Examine it; challenge it. My goal is to create a world that lasts two hours. Your job is to create a world that lasts forever."