EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a “speech” I wrote in 2010. I’m re-posting it (unedited) from my old blog.
This Is It!
Commencement Speech 2010
NO! I was not asked to be a commencement speaker this year….again. However, if I had been asked, this is something I would have used for a speech. On a serious note, I wanted to share some thoughts with some graduates this year so I put together this letter in the form of a speech. I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged also. ~ MM
A year ago, this month, the world was rocked by the news that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson had died. Every newspaper headline from New York to London screamed the devastating news. The media coverage, outpouring of fans and mourners, and the drama and excitement around his death drew no comparison to that of any recent celebrity death. The cost of the memorial service alone was estimated in the millions of dollars. Fans of Michael Jackson were not only devastated to hear the news because of their love for him but also in anticipation of his upcoming “This is it” tour.
This sold-out tour was highly anticipated and was projected to break a number of records. This would have been Jackson’s first tour since HIStory finished in 1997. Originally only ten dates were planned, but those tickets sold out in less than an hour…demanding more concerts. The public excitement over the announcement of the tour drew up to 16000 pre-sale applicants in a SECOND! Two different websites offering pre-sale tickets crashed within minutes of going online caused 1.5 million fans. At the same time, the sales of Michael Jackson’s King of Pop album were up 400% and Thriller was up 200%. The 50 shows that were canceled with record-breaking ticket sales and its potential for a worldwide tour deemed Jackson’s This Is It as “the greatest concerts that never happened.”
This weekend, I finally watched the film, This Is It, by Kenny Ortega that documents Michael Jackson’s rehearsals and preparation for the concert series. This “behind-the-scenes” look at Jackson, as he created and developed what was to be the best concert ever, gave life-long fans a special treat. Towards the beginning of the film, Michael Jackson made the comment that this tour would be the final curtain call, suggesting post-show retirement. “When I say this is it, it really means this is it,” he said. Truth be told, I have been a fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up following Michael Jackson! Though I never did the white glove thing…I was lucky enough to have a red zipper jacket. In addition to being an amazing artist, setting and breaking records all over the world and being a hometown Hoosier, I was always impressed by Jackson because of his love for his fans and care for people in general. Throughout his entire career, he was known for donating millions of dollars to charity, starting and supporting foundations, and advocating issues. Among the most notable is the donation of his Pepsi commercial accident settlement to charity; co-writing “We Are the World” to aid poor relief; donating all funds from Victory Tour, Man in the Mirror album and other donations to charity; founding the Heal the World Foundation and drawing public attention to AIDS/HIV just to name a few.
You’re probably starting to ask…so is this a commencement speech or an autobiography on the life and times of Michael Jackson. I must admit, I did get a little carried away talking about Jackson and barely even scratched the surface with all that he accomplished and his impact on not only the world of music but the lives of generations of people around the world. So what does that have to do with you as a graduate? What does that have to do with the years of work, classes, boredom, fun, frustration, disappointment, love, friendships, failure, successes and a long list of emotions and experiences that have brought you to this point in your life? I want you to turn around (…figuratively) and take a quick glance at your life, from where you started and the path you followed to where you are today. Like the pictures, letters and awards that are in your scrapbook and on the display board at your open house…you have a story to tell. In that story, you will probably find some laughter and some tears, but those experiences make up who you are today.
Most of you are very pleased with who you are…with maybe an exception of one or two “not-so-cool” experiences. While for a few individuals, there is a great disappointment, embarrassment and even anger over what you have had to go through to get where you are today. Perhaps for you, it caused too much pain to turn around and look at your life…because you want to forget about some terrible experiences. At the same time, you look at your graduating peers and wish you could just trade your life story with them since surely they have lived a blessed life and everything always seems to go right for them.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in life and we can’t just swap with someone like changing a channel on television. You can’t change who you are or where you have come from. You can’t delete certain memories or change decisions that you made or that were made for you. At this point in life, you have the opportunity to accept and acknowledge what has made you who and what you are today. While you are looking around wishing your life was better and that you could swap with someone…there is someone else looking at you wishing they could just have it as easy as you.
Well, I have some good news! That “better life” that you want…is right here. It is waiting for you! As you walk across this stage, receive your diploma and walk back to your seat…you have the key to that door. However, I need to tell you a secret before you go running off into this new world. In order for you to be successful in life, you have to remember the experiences that brought you to this point. Life gives us challenges in order to test and build our character. The manner in which we handle those difficult situations can help to better equip us in life. I have reached a point of maturity in my own life that I appreciate every disappointment, difficult situation and experience, both good and bad in my life. Those experiences have made me wiser, stronger, braver and more hopeful.
Also as you took a quick snapshot of your life, you probably took note of specific people and icons in your life that had a major impact on your success to this point. Whether it was parents, siblings, family members, mentors, coaches, best friends, teachers, employers, pastors, role models…other people helped encourage and empower you to get where you are today. As a side note, hopefully, you have or will take the time to thank those people in your own special way. Additionally, as they will agree, you will thank them by investing the same way into someone else. As you desire to make your own personal life better, you also have an opportunity and responsibility to impact the lives of those around you. Each of us enjoys the opportunity and responsibility to positively impact others…by what we say when we share and how we serve. As you make this a priority in your life, others make you a priority in their life.
So as I close, I want to draw your attention back to the life and times of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. We all know that he started his life journey in an over-crowded house as the eighth of ten children in Gary, Indiana in what could have been deemed a “dysfunctional family”. With talent at a very early age, Michael joined his brothers in what became the Jackson Five and the rest is HIStory. As you sit here today, you have barely started writing your story. Your life is still in the introduction stage, as far as your potential is concerned. What will you be? Where will you go? What impact will you have? What will your legacy be? Michael Jackson spent more than forty of his fifty years of life investing in his passion for music, his fans, and those things that were important to him and as a result…could certainly be labeled as the most iconic figure in the entire world. With all of that, at the time his death, he was working on what was to break records of all sorts and what he claimed as his final “curtain call.” This was it for him…not only was he supposed to retire, and unfortunately reached the end of his life, he was calling for the culmination of all that was important to him.
This is it…for you! This is the beginning of the rest of your life. I am excited about all of the potential as I look at you as graduates. I can’t wait to read your story. I can’t wait to see the impact of your legacy and to read your Wikipedia article! For all of the hard work, life experiences, investment by others, late nights and long days…this is what it’s all about. This Is It!