Here is the video of the speech.
How many liberal arts majors are here? I feel your pain. All the engineers here are smiling. I too was a liberal arts major.. so like you I have no actual skill. I majored in political science, I graduated in 1989, and I’d focused almost entirely on the Soviet Union and communism.. so when the Berlin wall fell I was, well, I was screwed. I mean I know it wasn’t about me, and I was happy.. for them.. but personally it was a blow.During this graduation season, On Point has been playing excerpts from notable commencement addresses. So far, we’ve heard from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Vice President Al Gore, actress Meryl Streep, and CNN host Anderson Cooper. Below are videos of, or links to, all five that we’ve played so far, beginning with the most recent.
I know many of you graduating today are worried about the economy, about your job prospects. I wish I could tell you not too, but of course you should be concerned. The one thing I can tell you however, is that this has happened before, and we have recovered. The currents of history only move in one direction- and that’s forward.
When I graduated there were hiring freezes at most TV news networks. I tried for months to get an entry-level job at ABC news, answering phones, xeroxing, whatever, but I couldn’t get hired. At the time it was crushing. But in retrospect, not getting that entry-level job, was the best thing that could have happened to me.
After months of waiting, I decided if no one would give me a chance as a reporter, I should take a chance. If no one would give me an opportunity, I would have to make my own opportunity.
I wanted to be a war correspondent, so I decided to just start going to wars. As you can imagine, my mom was thrilled about the plan. I had a friend make a fake press pass for me on a mac, and I borrowed a home video camera… and I snuck into Burma and hooked up with some students fighting the Burmese government… then I moved onto Somalia in the early days of the famine and fighting there.
I figured if I went places that were dangerous, I wouldn’t have as much competition, and because I was willing to sleep on the roofs of buildings, and live on just a few dollars a day, I was able to charge very little for my stories. As ridiculous as it sounds, my plan worked, and after two years on my own shooting stories in war zones, I was hired by ABC news as a correspondent. I was the youngest correspondent they had hired in many years. Had I gotten the entry-level job I’d wanted, I would have never become a network correspondent so quickly, I probably would never have even become one at all. The things which seem like heartbreaking setbacks, sometimes turn out to be lucky breaks.
While I don’t remember commencement, I do remember my senior year of college feeling paralyzed, because I thought I had to figure out my future all at once. Pick a career, start down a path I’d be on for the rest of my life. I now know it doesn’t work that way. Everyone I know who is successful, and by successful I mean happy in their professional or personal life, every successful person I know could never have predicted when they graduated from college where they’d actually end up.
I’m not saying you should take it easy and just see what happens. You need to outwork everyone around you. You need to arrive early, stay late, you need to make yourself indispensable - you should also probably get rid of those facebook photos of you passed out on bourbon street.
But as you consider what to do now, you shouldn’t necessarily feel that your next step is the most important one you’ll ever take. It’s not. You will go down many paths that go nowhere. Especially you English majors. You will try things on and realize they don’t fit. And that’s how it should be. Learning what you don’t want to do, is the next best thing to figuring out what you do want to do.
My father died when I was ten, but he loved New Orleans. His family moved here from Mississippi during world war two because there were jobs here. He used to bring me here all the time, and I remember him saying to me that New Orleans is a city of memory. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now.
In New York, where I live, they tear down the old, and build gleaming, gaudy monuments to the new. But New Orleans doesn’t try to erase its past. The Ritz Carlton hotel, used to be a department store, and the old name is still carved in the building’s façade. My grandmother used to sell ladies hats there. If you drive down Rampart you’ll pass a school, the Frederick Douglas academy.. but if you look closely you’ll see carved above the front door, the old name of the school: Frances T. Nicholls. That’s where my dad went to high school. It was segregated in those days, and Francis T. Nicholls was a confederate soldier, a governor of the state, a staunch defender of the old order. Any other city, would have chiseled his name off the building, but New Orleans does not rewrite history. Even that which is painful is not erased. A new layer is simply added upon the old. Walking the streets it’s like reading the rings on a tree.