Graduates: this is one heck of a memorable day. And the friends, teachers, parents, siblings, relatives, and community members that linked together to help get you here deserve one of those sweet Tiger ‘power clap’ things. So lets give it to them one time: CLAP.
Exactly 16 years ago I stood in front of a very similar crowd and in fact read those same words when I gave my Valedictorian address. To be here as your Commencement Speaker I can’t help but think about all of the thorns, flowers, iron, and gold… blood, sweat, and tears that propelled me forward into the world and equally compelled me to come back to the place where it all started.
Since graduating from JCHS, I went to college in California and then transferred to college in Chicago; I changed my major four times; I moved to Washington, D.C. after graduation, then Los Angeles, then Miami, and now I live in New York City. I’ve held jobs ranging from legal assistant, to TV producer, to online analyst, to crisis communications counselor, to president of my own company. I’ve broken off an engagement, been named one of Fast Company Magazine’s “Most Creative People in Business,” and built my first company at 24 years old that went on to generate over $13M in revenue during my six year tenure as President and Chief Operating Officer.
“While I’ve done a lot of things right (like work hard in school and strategically get involved in the tech industry), I’ve also done a lot of things wrong (like disregard my health and work with some real jerks early on in my career).” —me
In what follows, I hope to help discern and learn from these two kinds of experiences in hopes of imparting some super practical wisdom as you embark on the next chapter of your lives.
If you take nothing else away from what I am about to share, let it be this: to be successful, you need to…
The rest of what I am about to say are just the details. So if you want, go ahead and feel free to go back to Snapchatting, Instagramming, and surfing Reddit. As for those of you interested in the details, here they are…
There is nothing great that you will accomplish in life—be it college, at your job, with your family—that won’t happen without teamwork. Working on pep rallies, the yearbook, AP projects, and playing three sports in this community taught me that Together Everyone Achieves More. TEAM.
You know what I am talking about. Daily doubles. The Pub room. Away games. Take this with you, always.
Radically collaborate with your coworkers, fellow soldiers, college classmates, life partner, and family members. It will be more fun and you will get more done. Just like you did over the past four years here at JCHS.
Think of your life like a farmer, with the ebb and flow of seasons representing the stages and phases of your life. A show of hands from the audience, how many of you farm or are involved in some way in agriculture?We all are in some way being from JC. My parents are in the audience today and they farm wine grapes just off of Ferguson Road. I’m proud to be a partner in business with them, though I didn’t feel the same way about working on the farm when I was hankering to get to softball practice or go into town to see a movie with friends.
Anyway… Right at this moment, you are in a season of harvest. Rejoice. You’ve worked hard for four years: tending to the field that was your high school career; watering the plants that were your assignments and tests; and reaping the harvest of your diploma, of knowledge, and of lifelong friendships.
Tomorrow, you are back to having a barren field. Freshly tilled from the celebrations of today and tonight, laying fallow awaiting the seeds you choose to cultivate. So what will you plant? Is it time to enroll in college or vocational school? Is it time to enlist and serve your country? Or perhaps start a family? Along the way, make sure planting the seeds of savings and investment are a part of your strategy. Start now, even if it’s just a few dollars a week. Apps like Digit (savings) and Robin Hood (stock trading) can help you start and establish habits, then eventually graduate to having your own money manager. Whatever goal you have for this next stage of your life, set it, commit to it, and work towards it. Every. Single. Day.
Persevere as you consider what to study and where to work. At the same time, pick things that excite and engage you.
Firstly because it will ensure you show up to class and learn essential, foundational skills like managing your time, reading critically, persuading effectively, writing well, and working on a team.
And secondly, because you only get one shot at life and it’s important that you maximize joy.
“Major in business.” —says nearly everyone born before 1975
(When they tell you this ^ know that your parents and teachers and grandparents mean well, but they don’t know that there are jobs you haven’t even considered yet that await critical thinkers who can communicate well and collaborate with others effectively. You can always shoot me an email to discuss the best way to approach your education: leslie.a.bradshaw at gmail dot com is my personal email).
“Major in whatever excites and engages you.” —me
(TL;DR my answer to the question of what you should major in and / or what you should pursue professionally).
Persevere when times are tough and do not quit even when you aren’t seeing immediate results. Plan your work and work your plan. Settle in and accept that it will likely be another three to four years before you experience another harvest like the one you are enjoying today. It will take time.
It will also take being vigilant about the health of your crop. Related… one thing I learned the hard way is:
“If you want a flourishing garden, you cannot reserve a plot for weeds.” —Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General 1953–1961
There are undoubtedly people, habits, and negative thoughts that are weeds in your life right now. They are stripping your soil of vital nutrients. They are blocking your leaves from the sunlight they need to perform photosynthesis. Get rid of them. Cut them out at the roots. Spray for them so you eradicate them for generations to come.
No great farmer—and there are many here in the crowd today, including my dad—says:
“Oh yeah, I have this sectioned off for my weeds. I like to grow patches of blackberries, scotch-broom, poison oak, and dandelions.” —said no great farmer, ever
Weeds spread! They inhibit, constrict, and limit life. They will keep you from becoming the wonderful, brilliant, happy, and successful person you are destined to become. So be vigilant. And be patient—for you cannot always be in a season of harvest. And persevere, so that you can in fact find yourself in a position to harvest something wonderful like this moment again soon.
Third and finally…
“Your attitude will ultimately determine your altitude.” — Zig Ziglar
The softball team that Mrs. Henderson played on with me had a motto: PMA (“Positive Mental Attitude”) all the way! No matter how many times we got rained on (or out) or how much it hurt when we got hit by a ball… gotta stay positive. And in the words of Beyoncé…
“Always stay gracious, the best revenge is your paper.” —Beyoncé, Formation
While you stay gracious, look for ways to meaningfully help others. If you can help two people in a deep, material way every year for the next forty years… and they each do the same… together, you can all impact 850,000 people in just four decades.
In the class of 2016, I am proud to have deeply impacted the lives of Evelyn Tedrick and Kelsey McFadden as their mentor. And I know it will reverberate for many years to come.
In short: take pride in reaching back to help. It’s our responsibility, for:
“To whom much was given, of him much will be required.” —Luke 12:48
I am so excited for each and every one of you. I’ve lived all over and I can honestly say that fancy city folk who have gone to private schools have nothing on this town. I wouldn’t trade growing up here for anything. This community cares about and supports its own.
“This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” —Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian
Thank you. And GO TIGERS!
Cross-posted from Medium and authored by Leslie Bradshaw.
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