Tonight I am giving a speech to the Class of 2007 at Waubonsie Valley High School, because I am being honored as their most distinguised alumnus. It is 10 minutes long....and it is published here.
10 years ago I was standing in your shoes. I had dreamed of being an adult for as long as I could remember. Walking the hallways of middle school and high school, I couldn’t WAIT to give the real world a try. 10 years later, the real world is not even close to what I dreamed it would be. It is 100 times better.
I had opportunities in high school that were unique, special, memorable and life-altering. As graduation approached, I wasn’t sure if I would find that in the real world, but I did, and so far life has been pretty wonderful.
I stand before you today, having been given the label, distinguished. Distinguished being defined as being made conspicuous by excellence, noted, eminent, famous. Before I was given this great honor, I didn’t much think about any of those adjectives as being a description for me, but I’ll take it!
More simply, I like to think of myself as accomplishing. I don’t know if I will ever be accomplished, but I am always striving to do, and to be.
As I thought long and hard about this speech, my thoughts kept coming to what I would want my 18-year-old self to hear, or what I would want my future teenage daughters to hear, so even though it is not biologically possible for you to be my children, I speak to you as a mother, or if you prefer, an older sister.
3 things have aided me on my “accomplishing” journey. I have 3 secrets to success. I would love to share them with you tonight. I will briefly speak about Humility, Hard Work and Support. After which, I will conclude with some sentences to send you off into that amazing fertile world that lies ahead for you.
Believe it or not, you don’t know everything. When I was in college, I had a professor teach me a great set of phrases. One of which included Consciously Unskilled. I believe this is an essential part of humility. Be aware of what you are not good at it, or what you need to improve upon, or just flat out need to learn from scratch. When you are starting out in the world, at college, in a job, or a relationship, you can’t be a blockhead. You simply must take moments for self-evaluation and reflection so that you are CONSCIOUS of what you need to self-master. This means getting rid of your pride and cultivating true humility.
Take time to remember those who came along your path that helped you become who you are and look to who you will depend on in the future. Life’s journey is not a lonely one, and it is important to recognize that part of what you are, is because of many others around you.
If you feel to this point that you have achieved all by yourself, with no one’s help, I challenge you to humble yourself and acknowledge the people and experiences outside of yourself that have changed you for the better.
While you are educating yourself and finding your life’s work, be humble enough to ask questions, and seek experiences that will teach you and fill up your mind. Be humble enough to share that knowledge that you acquire with your peers. Be humble enough to show gratitude to those along the way who give you a boost, a chance, an encouraging word. Be humble enough to do the same for that student that follows in your footsteps. NEVER stop learning. Fill up your mind until you fill up your coffin.
Don’t waste time envying what someone else has….go get it yourself. And be humble while you do it.
People are lazy. I am sure it took a lot of hard work for you all to be honored here tonight. You are obviously a small percentage of the school’s population. Guess what? Just because people grow up doesn’t mean that they change. You will still ALWAYS be in the minority when it comes to level of work.
Working hard DOES pay off. It is so important that you get an education. It is ever so important that you prepare yourself for the opportunities that will come your way. I could not find who stakes claim on this quote, but it goes like this: “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.” You must do EVERYTHING in your power to be ready when that interview comes your way, when the CEO at that party asks for your business card, when that visiting professional wants to see your resume.
You must take networking very seriously. All of you introverts, it is time to practice being extroverted. I know that must sound painful, but you simply MUST meet those people who will aid you in furthering your pursuits. You must get your resume in front of as many eyes as possible, because the odds are in your favor if more people know who you are. You must be organized, efficient, creative and forward-thinking as you work your way to excellence.
Sometimes you will be met with adversity. You will submit resume after resume, attend interview after interview, and see no progress. In my case, it is one audition after another. Last year I only booked 17% of the jobs that I auditioned for. 83% of the time I faced rejection. On a particularly frustrating span of time, a friend of mine advised: If you stay standing on the train tracks, eventually you WILL get hit by the train. It sounds morbid, but the analogy is true….just keep your hat in the ring, and eventually it will pay off.
Choose work that you feel passionate about, and motivated to do. Don’t do it for the money, do it because it makes you happy. Always remember, hard work is a vital part of your education, career, relationships and general success in the world.
The best way for me to sum up Support is in the word Foundation. Your foundation is made up of your Family, your Friends and your Faith.
We all have families. And if we don’t have the greatest families, than our friends become our families. We also have opportunities to CREATE families when the time is right. Choose those family members who have really been there for you for the past 18 years. Who do you trust? Who loves you unconditionally? Who is the one that you can depend on? If you can only think of one person, you are blessed. If there are more than one, even better. These are the people who are going to be there when the going gets tough. These are your SAFE people who will support you in good times and bad.
In 2002, my husband graduated from the University of Maryland with his MBA in finance. It was just 6 months after September 11th, and the stock market and economy were hit hard. As a result, the percentage of MBA graduates with job offers upon graduation was hitting record lows. After much diligence and hard work, my husband was not finding work. We had a choice to make. We could either stay in Maryland and continue to seek out gainful employment there, or we could move to New York City, where we had HOPED he would get a job offer, and where we dreamed of living.
A question that I have tacked on my bulletin board comes to mind: Do you have enough risks in your life to stay alive?
Moving to NYC was a sizable risk. We had a finite amount of money, a 4-month-old baby to take care of, and no jobs. We decided to go for it. However, we knew we were taking a risk, so we called our support system. We phoned up my parents and his parents and told them our plan: to move to NYC and find work. We told them we had a financial plan to get us through 1 year, and if we did not have income by then, we would need to move in with them. Our parents agreed that they would let us move in if after 1 year if we had failed to meet our goals, and that they supported us in our decision.
We made the move. We got jobs. 5 years later we have bought our own condo and paid off our student loans. We did not move in with our parents, but we would not have been able to take those risks without their support.
Your family will be there to pick you up when you fall, and celebrate with you when you succeed.
When family is not available, you turn to your friends. I have been living away from my family for about 8 years. They are still my family, still support me and take care of me, but it is my friends that I depended on when I was struck with meningitis, found a mouse in my apartment, when my power went out for a week, when my purse was stolen. My mommy wasn’t there to kiss it better and my husband was at work, so I had to turn to my friends. My friends were also there when I got my first big job on tv, put on a one-woman show, and bought my first condo. They are the first ones to support me whenever I need them. I know my friends are true friends, because when I am with them, I want to be a better person, and they inspire me to continue on this accomplishing path of mine.
The last and probably most important part of your support or your foundation is your faith. For me, my faith is my belief system, which is well-rooted in my religion. This is not the case for everyone. Nevertheless, you need to know what you DO and DO NOT have faith in. Recognize those core beliefs that govern your everyday choices, actions and pursuits. Why do you do the things you do? Why are you who you are? What do you believe in…what do you know for sure, that makes you do what you do and pursue what you intend on pursuing. Identify your passions, and what makes you happy. Discover the Inner Joy that you carry because when you are alone, faced with a road to walk down, THAT is what will propel you into a brilliant future.
And now for some parting thoughts.
When you step across that stage at graduation, become a sponge. Shed the burdens that have been bringing you down. Shed stereotypes that you put on others. Shed your excuses. Shed blaming others.
Seek opportunities to be responsible and OWN your actions. Seek education. Seek experience. Seek people.
Choose your life. Do not let it choose you. Make your own way. Create your own authentic, passionate, joyful existence.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Have Courage. Be Confident.
Acknowledge your Support, and you simply cannot fail.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to come and pay it forward. It has been my pleasure to speak with you this evening.