JON BON JOVI
May 16, 2001
Good afternoon… and congratulations to the graduating class of 2001. President Stafford, faculty, alumni, parents, family and friends. I’m 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.)
I’ve 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 isn’t yet finished at 39 years old, I am a few chapters ahead so maybe there are a few lessons I can share.
Right now I’ll bet there are a multitude of emotions running through you – from sheer joy to trepidation, from anxiety to anticipation. Don’t worry — that’s normal. And it’s something you’ve faced before. When you went from kindergarten to elementary school and then from junior high to high school to college… it’s 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 “real world.” But YOUR schooling isn’t over. Treat the workplace as another school and learn all the lessons you can from it. Don’t 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 – but when I started a film career, I was just another actor looking for work. My fame wasn’t a help –in 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 wasn’t offered roles; I went to auditions. It wasn’t Hollywood calling (it wasn’t 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 again… at the bottom. It was like the first day of school for me and I couldn’t call my mother to hold my hand. A NEW BEGINNING.
Now, some of you may have your futures mapped out. Whether it’s 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. That’s OK Don’t 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 didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. Now, staring at forty, I still don’t know. And that’s what makes life exciting. So map out your future – but do it in pencil. Remember, “Not all who wander are lost.”
Now, failure… ah, yes. We should discuss failure. How can I put it in terms you can relate to and yet won’t bring you down? Well, let’s just say: it stinks. Nobody wants to fail but, unfortunately, it’s inevitable. The only thing I can tell you about failure is this: it’s a formidable opponent. But, don’t let it scare you. In fact, it’ll teach you a lot – a lot about yourself, and others.
We all fail somewhere along the line. The race you lost, the test you didn’t pass and, in my case, the record execs who claimed “you’ll never make it in the music business.” 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 don’t remember that Babe Ruth failed 1,330 times… we remember the 714 times Babe Ruth hit a home-run… It is what you learn from your failure that makes all the difference. Success is falling 9 times, and getting up 10.
Yes, it’s gonna be competitive out there and don’t think that it’s gonna be easy just because you have that diploma. Every year there’s 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, we’re from Jersey. We’ve been the underdogs all of our lives. And I can tell you this: it’s passion, not pedigree, that can and will win in the end. Free yourself from comparison. Just because someone has fancy sneakers doesn’t mean they can run faster.
Bon Jovi was not supposed to succeed. Ask any critic. We weren’t from NY. We weren’t from LA. I didn’t live the cliché rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that “legends” were made of. We tried to keep up with the Jones’ until I realized that even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. One out of every 1,000 bands gets a record deal. One out of a million have any success. I’ve been to the top and I’ve been written off more than once… but I’m 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 doesn’t need any more gray. On the other hand, we can’t get enough color. Mediocrity is nobody’s goal and perfection shouldn’t be either. We’ll never be perfect. But remember these three P’s: Passion + Persistence = Possiblity.
Sure, everybody wants to write a great novel, or a number one song. Who wouldn’t want to be a great visionary or President of the United States? It’s easy to look at any of those things and say, “No… I can’t 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?” You have to believe you can. Believe… 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 don’t, 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, you’ll 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. That’s the power of individuals. It’s exciting.
THERE IS NO 25TH HOUR IN THE DAY, SO DON’T LOOK FOR IT.
Take time. Stop. Look around you. Freeze the moment. Use your eyes and your mind to take pictures – mental pictures. Store the images like photographs in your head and your heart. If you already do that, good for you. If you don’t, but think it’s a good idea, it’s not too late to start right now. Look around and remember this moment. At the end of the day, it’s not the person with the most toys who wins – it’s the person with the most memories. Because, when you’re 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, there’s a few things I know for sure:
GROW UP… BUT DON’T GROW OLD.
MIRACLES HAPPEN EVERYDAY – CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT A MIRACLE IS AND YOU’LL SEE THEM ALL AROUND YOU.
ELVIS IS MOST CERTAINLY ALIVE.
LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WHILE YOU’RE BUSY MAKING PLANS (John Lennon)
LIVE WHILE YOU’RE ALIVE…
AND THANK YOUR PARENTS.
I’d 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 low… They deserve a big hug. Actually, they deserve a big house, a new car and a long vacation… and now that you’ve 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 everything…
It’s the Declaration of Independence.
Happy Independence Day!
Come tomorrow, work hard.
Tonight, play hard.
You’ve earned it and you deserve it.
Good Luck and Good Life.