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William Shatner adjusts his hat after receiving an honorary degree from McGill University, his alma mater, on Thursday in Montreal.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The former captain of the starship Enterprise told university graduates in his hometown that they should boldly go forward to seek out their future - and not be afraid to wind up making an "ass" of themselves.

William Shatner, best known as Capt. James T. Kirk of the Star Trek franchise, was given an honorary doctorate of Letters at Montreal's McGill University.

"Don't be afraid of taking chances, of striking out on paths that are untrod. Don't be afraid of failing," Shatner told students.

"Don't be afraid of making an ass of yourself.

"I do it all the time, and look where I got."

The 80-year-old star got thunderous applause when he took the stage to get the award and drew numerous laughs during a funny speech.

He hinted in that address that he had not always hit the books hard when he was at McGill.

He explained that he barely graduated and had to take an extra math course to make up for one he had failed. During his time at McGill, however, he was also active as president of McGill's radio club and in campus theatre productions.

While working on that math class toward a bachelor's of commerce in 1952, Shatner got his first job - as assistant manager of a small acting company in Montreal.

He fibbed to get the job. Shatner told them he already had a degree, was adept at math and had accounting and banking skills.

"It wasn't long before they discovered two things: that I had no accounting skills whatsoever - my math skills are really bad - and that I was a good actor," Shatner said.

"My talents didn't lie in the field of accounting. My father, who paid for my education, was not amused.

"But my talents lay in trying to be funny and entertaining people. Although I didn't study that, per se - that's Latin, by the way - I got my education, complete, whole and useful, at McGill."

He explained to students that his university experiences paved the road, in ways he couldn't have imagined, to his future successes. Sometimes, he said, the path to success is circuitous.

Shatner illustrated his point with references to Montreal geography.

"The road of life isn't linear - it isn't Sherbrooke Street. It's more like Cote-des-Neiges," he said, drawing more laughs with the reference to the famously twisty downtown thoroughfare.

"It's a country route, dusty and dirty, with soft shoulders and high banks."

Shatner, who has won Emmy Awards, also made his mark as an actor in such movies as Judgment at Nuremberg and TV shows including Boston Legal and TJ Hooker. He has also authored best-selling books.

Shatner shared two other details with his audience.

First, a piece of advice about everyday life: "Get up earlier in the morning! There's nothing you can't accomplish when standing on two feet. When you're lying down all you accomplish is some REM sleep and working out your dream life."

He also offered a confession.

Shatner began his speech with a description of how corporal punishment was meted out when he was in high school, with students frequently getting the leather strap across the hand for being tardy or rambunctious.

He revealed that he was even accused, once, of setting fire to the principal's car in high school. He said that, after more than six decades, he continues to deny the act and insists it must have been someone else.

But at the end of his address Shatner made another confession.

He said he's only ever told two big lies in his life: that he's good at math, and that someone else must have burned down the principal's car.