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L.A.'s punk rock lion, Henry Rollins: 'This is the most amazing century to be alive in'

'This is the most amazing century to be alive in' -punk legend and college commencement speaker Henry Rollins

On Saturday, Henry Rollins gave a speech.

This was not too unusual for the former Black Flag frontman, who between his many DJ gigs, L.A. Weekly column, acting roles and literary pursuits has never lacked for outlets.

But when Rollins gave the commencement address at Burbank's Woodbury University on Saturday, it put one of punk rock's most essential figures in an old, familiar role: inspiring young people to get out there, take risks and affect everything.

"Educated people make the world a better place," he told students. "They mercilessly attack misery and cruelty, and eventually they win."

This wasn't Rollins' first swing through academic accolades; he's given one other commencement speech, at Sonoma State in 2009, and last year joined Kirk Douglas, Malcolm McDowell and Burt Reynolds as a recipient of Woodbury's Ray Bradbury Creativity Award.

But it was a validating gesture that Rollins, as a lion in winter of Los Angeles' punk scene, has transcended the particulars of his music to become an all-purpose spark for curiosity and action, even in a setting as formal as higher education. 

"This is the most amazing century to be alive in. I can't think of another time where you can think of something, actualize it and change everything," he told The Times. "But it's going to be necessary to do so: This is going to be the century that determines if Homo sapiens get it together or don't."

In the coming months, he has a slew of books he has to finish writing, a DIY entrepreneurship conference he's keynoting, and the release of his ennui-ridden cannibal film "He Never Died." It's the kind of project-hopping life to which many in his student audience probably aspire.

But, contrary to the techno-philic, stay-indoors impulses of a lot of today's young creatives, Rollins used his Woodbury speech to plead for a more visceral kind of transformation. In recent months, he's spent long periods of time hiking Silk Road archaeological sites in central Asia and is planning trips to South America and South Sudan with a favored water charity, Drop in the Bucket.

He's always been a road dog in his bands, but at 55 he says he wants to use his platforms to advocate for travel as the means of really understanding how life works. 

"You can see 10 documentaries on India, which, that's nice, but as soon as you actually step off the plane there, you'll never be the same," he said. "I spent a month in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, and you'd be walking around and see bones or pottery sticking out of the ground and the guide would tell us, 'Oh, yeah, that's from Genghis Khan's era.' There, history is so in your face, and that's how I like it."

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