May 16, 2001
afternoonÖ and congratulations to the graduating class of 2001.
President Stafford, faculty, alumni, parents, family and friends.
Iím humbled and honored to have been asked to give this commencement
speech on this, one of the most special days of your life (so far.)
Iíve had to think hard over the last several weeks about what information I could offer you that you might find useful in the years to come. Though the book of my life isnít yet finished at 39 years old, I am a few chapters ahead so maybe there are a few lessons I can share.
Right now Iíll bet there are a multitude of emotions running through you - from sheer joy to trepidation, from anxiety to anticipation. Donít worry -- thatís normal. And itís something youíve faced before. When you went from kindergarten to elementary school and then from junior high to high school to collegeÖ itís all been a series of NEW BEGINNINGS. Now, some of you have chosen to continue on with higher education, and others are jumping out into the ďreal world.Ē But YOUR schooling isnít over. Treat the workplace as another school and learn all the lessons you can from it. Donít be afraid to start from the bottom. Be humble and stay humble. No job is beneath you if you use it as a lesson.
I may have been very successful in my music career Ė but when I started a film career, I was just another actor looking for work. My fame wasnít a help Ėin fact, it was a hindrance. No one in Hollywood encourages musicians to make the transition into acting. I had to audition just to get an acting coach! I took acting lessons but I wasnít offered roles; I went to auditions. It wasnít Hollywood calling (it wasnít even Hoboken!) It took persistence and patience and years of waiting until I finally won my first movie role. Truth be told, on the way from the airport to the set that first day, the idea of turning around and running away did cross my mind. I had gone from three years of studying in a room with that acting coach to standing on the set of a major motion picture beside Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg and Kathleen Turner. Was I scared? Yes! I was starting over againÖ at the bottom. It was like the first day of school for me and I couldnít call my mother to hold my hand. A NEW BEGINNING.
Now, some of you may have your futures mapped out. Whether itís continuing your education, conquering Wall Street, starting a Fortune 500 company, getting into politics, maybe becoming an entertainer. Then there are some of you who may not have a plan yet. Thatís OK Donít be embarrassed by indecision. Remember: this life is a marathon. Whatever road life leads you down, you can change direction at any time. When I was in my early twenties, I didnít know what tomorrow would bring. Now, staring at forty, I still donít know. And thatís what makes life exciting. So map out your future Ė but do it in pencil. Remember, ďNot all who wander are lost.Ē
Now, failureÖ ah, yes. We should discuss failure. How can I put it in terms you can relate to and yet wonít bring you down? Well, letís just say: it stinks. Nobody wants to fail but, unfortunately, itís inevitable. The only thing I can tell you about failure is this: itís a formidable opponent. But, donít let it scare you. In fact, itíll teach you a lot - a lot about yourself, and others.
We all fail somewhere along the line. The race you lost, the test you didnít pass and, in my case, the record execs who claimed ďyouíll never make it in the music business.Ē Whatever. The point is, you get up, brush yourself off and get on with life.
I once read about a baseball player who struck out 1,330 times. But we donít remember that Babe Ruth failed 1,330 timesÖ we remember the 714 times Babe Ruth hit a home-runÖ It is what you learn from your failure that makes all the difference. Success is falling 9 times, and getting up 10.
Yes, itís gonna be competitive out there and donít think that itís gonna be easy just because you have that diploma. Every year thereís a new crop of talent making records who want my spot and right at this very moment, all across the country, thousands of graduates are receiving diplomas, some from schools like Yale, Georgetown and Dartmouth, who maybe think their piece of paper is more valuable (or their commencement speaker more impressive.) Remember, weíre from Jersey. Weíve been the underdogs all of our lives. And I can tell you this: itís passion, not pedigree, that can and will win in the end. Free yourself from comparison. Just because someone has fancy sneakers doesnít mean they can run faster.
Bon Jovi was not supposed to succeed. Ask any critic. We werenít from NY. We werenít from LA. I didnít live the clichй rock Ďní roll lifestyle that ďlegendsĒ were made of. We tried to keep up with the Jonesí until I realized that even if you win the rat race, youíre still a rat. One out of every 1,000 bands gets a record deal. One out of a million have any success. Iíve been to the top and Iíve been written off more than onceÖ but Iím still here. Still the underdog? Maybe. Passionate? Definitely.
Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. The world doesnít need any more gray. On the other hand, we canít get enough color. Mediocrity is nobodyís goal and perfection shouldnít be either. Weíll never be perfect. But remember these three Pís: Passion + Persistence = Possiblity.
Sure, everybody wants to write a great novel, or a number one song. Who wouldnít want to be a great visionary or President of the United States? Itís easy to look at any of those things and say, ďNoÖ I canít write a better book than John Steinbeck or a better song than The Beatles. How could I ever be as brilliant as Bill Gates or as brave as Abraham Lincoln?Ē You have to believe you can. BelieveÖ and anything is possible.
Believe in love. Believe in magic. Hell, believe in Santa Claus. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. If you donít, who will? I was blessed, as are many of you here today, to be surrounded with people in my life who believed. Listen to them; in turn, youíll believe in yourself.
Because each one of you has something no one else has, or has ever had: your fingerprints, your brain, your heart. Be an individual. Be unique. Stand out. Make noise. Make someone take notice. Thatís the power of individuals. Itís exciting.
THERE IS NO 25TH HOUR IN THE DAY, SO DONíT LOOK FOR IT.
Take time. Stop. Look around you. Freeze the moment. Use your eyes and your mind to take pictures Ė mental pictures. Store the images like photographs in your head and your heart. If you already do that, good for you. If you donít, but think itís a good idea, itís not too late to start right now. Look around and remember this moment. At the end of the day, itís not the person with the most toys who wins Ė itís the person with the most memories. Because, when youíre sitting in your rocking chair at the young age of 100, those memories are gonna be like old friends. Someone you can call on to make you smile. And the more of those old friends that come around, the better.
To sum it up, thereís a few things I know for sure:
GROW UPÖ BUT DONíT GROW OLD.
MIRACLES HAPPEN EVERYDAY Ė CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT A MIRACLE IS AND YOUíLL SEE THEM ALL AROUND YOU.
ELVIS IS MOST CERTAINLY ALIVE.
LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WHILE YOUíRE BUSY MAKING PLANS (John Lennon)
LIVE WHILE YOUíRE ALIVEÖ
AND THANK YOUR PARENTS.
Iíd like to take this public opportunity to thank mine. Not only are parents the reason any of us are here but, chances are, they flew next to you through every high and sunk below you at every lowÖ They deserve a big hug. Actually, they deserve a big house, a new car and a long vacationÖ and now that youíve made it to this day, maybe a stiff drink.
Today marks your rookie season in the big game. Get out there and play. Hold your diploma up in your hands and do the touchdown dance. Let the world know you scored. That piece of paper in your hands is the ball, your everythingÖ
Itís the Declaration of Independence.
Happy Independence Day!
Come tomorrow, work hard.
Tonight, play hard.
Youíve earned it and you deserve it.
Good Luck and Good Life.