When delivering his speech, the actor drew a steady stream of laughter from the 463 graduating seniors and more than 5,000 onlookers with his witty remarks.
"With all due respect to Gwen Ifill and Bonnie Bassler, I think this is the most important piece of advice you'll get today: become a movie star. Now, you might be tempted by other careers, other interests, other commitments. There might be pressure on you to change the world, but you want to find the strength to resist," he said.
He threw another joke when looking back at the day he dropped out of school.
"In many ways, leaving school when I did it was an advantage. I saved nearly USD 6,000 by not having to pay tuition and expenses for four years of education. 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," he stated.
"It worked out just fine. I saved the money, and I got the degree. My mother would be so proud to see her son, who never graduated high school, standing up here, receiving this honorary doctorate of fine arts. She would've been more proud of it if it was from Harvard," the 68-year-old said.
The Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts was conferred by interim president at Bates, Nancy Cable. De Niro was presented the degree by his friend, trustee Michael Chu.