Musician and actor Steven Van Zandt called on the largest-ever graduating class in Rutgers University to stay true to their Garden State roots on Sunday, urging them to embrace authenticity and reminding them that "life should never be boring."
Wearing his signature head scarf, Van Zandt gave the address at the New Jersey school's commencement ceremony, where he also received a received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree. Known for being a longtime member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and for his acting work in "The Sopranos," he urged graduates to seek out "greatness" in their lives and to pick up the activism of earlier generations.
To help make his point, Van Zandt cited two other prominent New Jerseyans: Springsteen and David Chase, the creator of "The Sopranos." He noted that Springsteen used a postcard of Asbury Park for the cover of his first album, while Chase set his hit television show in his home state.
"Authenticity worked for Bruce. It worked for David Chase," Van Zandt told the crowd. "Embrace your Jersey roots and authenticity. It doesn't matter where you're from. You're in the Jersey family now."
Van Zandt was born in Boston but grew up in Middle Township, New Jersey. He was chosen after a selection process involving students, faculty and staff. He received a standing ovation following his appearance, which came one year after President Barack Obama gave the commencement during the school's 250th anniversary.
Besides his work in the entertainment field, Van Zandt has also won praise for his social activism, speaking out against apartheid in South Africa and injustice in other parts of the world. He urged the crowd to be involved but to also enjoy life.
"Reach for greatness, nothing less," Van Zandt told his audience. "And make sure you have some fun along the way. Life should never be boring. Congratulations. Go get 'em."