Michelle Yeoh Tells AFI Graduates 'Don't Be Afraid to Fall' as She Receives Honorary Doctorate

·3 min read
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: Honorary Doctorate Recipient Michelle Yeoh speaks on stage at the AFI Conservatory class of 2022 commencement ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre on August 13, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: Honorary Doctorate Recipient Michelle Yeoh speaks on stage at the AFI Conservatory class of 2022 commencement ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre on August 13, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

David Livingston/Getty

Michelle Yeoh is graduating with honors.

The Malaysian actress, 60, imparted some wisdom to the American Film Institute's newest graduating class Saturday as she accepted an honorary doctorate of fine arts at the class of 2022 commencement ceremony.

She was introduced by Everything Everywhere All at Once directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre, where she gave a speech recounting her early years in the industry.

RELATED: Michelle Yeoh on Inspiring Younger Generations of Asian Actors: 'We Deserve a Voice'

After an injury dashed her dreams of going into ballet, Yeoh bounced back at a gym where several stuntmen trained. She ended up learning some tricks of the trade from her new cohorts.

"The first thing they taught me what to do was to tuck and roll, then how to fall on my side, and then how to fall on my back. And after a while, it dawned on me that they were teaching me how to fall. I was convinced I was being pranked. I was like, 'When do I get to do the real stuff? You know, the jumping kick, the roundhouse kick,'" she recalled. "And they said to me, 'How are you going to go up if you don't know how to come down?'"

Everything Everywhere All At Once
Everything Everywhere All At Once

David Bornfriend/A24 Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

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"That lesson sticks with me to this day. I had to learn how to fall. Well, you could say I learned it in my bones, literally," Yeoh added.

The actress recalled jumping off a 20-foot highway overpass for one stunt, in which she "over-rotated, causing my back to fold in half," as well as a stunt gone wrong on the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which caused her to tear her ACL. "I didn't land properly, but I completed the scene though," she said.

"These moments taught me perseverance, grit and humility," she said. "They also taught me to hone and perfect my skills and eventually progress to the point where I was running on rooftops and jumping onto moving trains. I'm not asking you all to do that, okay?"

"You see, after I learned how to fall, I could learn how to fly. What I want to share with you today is that our slips and stumbles are the secrets to our flight. Every person who has ever stepped onto this stage has had their fair share of crashes. Trust me, that's part of the deal. Success without failure is called luck. It cannot really be repeated or relied upon. It is from failure, we learn and grow," Yeoh continued.

Michelle Yeoh Rollout
Michelle Yeoh Rollout

Everett

The Crazy Rich Asians star concluded her speech: "Be courageous, take chances, break barriers, be proud of what makes you unique.

"And most importantly, don't be afraid to fall, for you are learning to fly. Congratulations again. I look forward to seeing what you can do out there. Be kind to yourself, be kind, be kind, be kind. And thank you once again, AFI, for this tremendous honor," Yeoh said.

Yeoh, whose career spans nearly four decades after finding her calling in the Hong Kong film scene, previously opened up to PEOPLE about this stage of her career.

RELATED VIDEO: 'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Michelle Yeoh on Why It's Different Being at the Oscars This Year for Her

"What [is special about] this moment in my career is having so many people who look like me, especially the younger generation [of Asian actors], come up to me and say, 'Finally, I can see myself doing all these kinds of things because you are doing it,'" she said in April.

"We have to stand up for ourselves and be courageous enough to have a voice. We deserve a voice," Yeoh added. "I think at this point in my career, that is what I'm really enjoying: the fact that we are getting more opportunities and the opportunities we deserve."