From a Commencement Key Note Address for Argosy University:
You, soon to be alumni of Argosy University, embark upon a journey into the depths of your soul beyond that which is known to anyone, maybe even yourself. You begin an adventure, a quest of epic proportion as vast as space itself and timeless as infinity to share your conquests, hopes and dreams. To inspire others. To motivate yourself and fill the middle ground between light and shadow; science and superstition; student and graduate; reality and fantasy. You are about to enter the dimension of imagination that I call:
The Story Zone
In your pocket, a modern techno-gadget suddenly springs to life. Vibrations radiate forth. “Turn off your cell phone”, echoes in your mind. You did not follow the instructions of your professors – yet again! Do you dare to casually and nonchalantly check your device? Heck no. Bob Zima is speaking. And this guy is good.
Who could be texting or calling anyway? Your mind takes you on a roller coaster, rolodex ride.
You can’t resist. You MUST LOOK. You read the text. Pause. Read it again. Shake your head. You’re confused. Confounded. What dimension have you traveled into at the mere prompting of this guest speaker?
Steven Spielberg with JJ Abrams? They want to produce a mini-series based on your life. YOUR LIFE? WWWWWWHHHHAAAAAAAAAAT? “Why me?” you ponder. I am not that interesting. Doubt creeps in. Maybe I am “a little” interesting. OK! Somewhat interesting. At least that is what my BF, GF, BFF, YOLO bracelet, M.O.M. and/or D.A.D. says. Do they have to say that?
Your internal confidence is growing.
Then panic sets in!
What if people find out that you are fearful, NO, terrified, of dreaming, hoping and striving for a future of which YOU have long imagined? You may FAIL. OMG! Fail and still have the LOANS! You may also SUCCEED. Yeah, YOU like that!
The Power of Story is the muscle of imagination. The Power of Story is the dominion of memory. The Power of Story propels dreams. The Power of Story fosters faith and fuels hope. The Power of Story inspires. Motivates.
The stories told by movie makers, novel writers, playwrights, song scribes, poets and even you, the author of the story of your life, have a couple of structural components in common: First, lead characters face adversity, accept challenges and ultimately, against all odds, succeed! Like completing a college education. Securing a collegiate degree is not easy or something you could do in your sleep. Although some professors, none of course on this stage, bored you to sleep and almost death. Just staying awake was THE challenge you had to overcome. You, just like Indiana Jones on his quests for the Arch of the Covenant, Crystal Skull and Holy Grail, remained focused on the prize and secured your treasure: A college degree. Without it you would fall into a dark and gloomy tomb of broken dreams! Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?
Second, lead characters stumble, make mistakes, learn life lessons and develop perseverance. You, like Jack, Kate and Sawyer, may have felt Lost in certain classes, and maybe even the building. You may have taken a few wrong turns down a dead-end hatch. Missed an assignment deadline or flagged a test. You may have wondered will I ever graduate and get to stop pushing this darn button every 108 minutes.
You are the lead character in your story. You have found and secured the prize artifact: a degree. You are graduating and no longer lost. Time to leave this island and make a name and life for yourself. Time for dreams to happen. Time to tell your stories of your past and future.
I am a Frequent Flyer to Hell and Back. That “tag line” may trigger thoughts. “What does he mean ‘Frequent Flyer’?” “His life must really suck.” “How did HE get selected to speak at MY commencement? Gotta be a story there. They wouldn’t hire a no-body, who failed, lost or would they?” Your mind comes alive attempting to comprehend and construct THE story behind my self-promoting tag line.
As a frequent Flyer to Hell and Back, licensed clinical professional counselor, writer, podcast host and alumni of The Player’s Workshop of the Second City, I learned that the power of story is NOT WHAT HAPPENS to us. Rather, the Power of Story is HOW WE RESPOND to what happens to us.
The power of my story is NOT my addiction to drugs and alcohol. The power is HOW I gained and maintain sobriety. The power of my story is NOT that I lost my home and ended up homeless with a young family. The power is HOW I stayed sane living in my in-law’s basement. HOW I returned to school to make a better life for my family. HOW I worked to once again afford the life style of homeownership. The power of my story is NOT that I am a parent who buried two infant children. The power is HOW I inspire others and motivate myself to seek healing, to grieve and to improve the quality of life.
HOW does one accomplish HOW? That’s the 64 million dollar questions. If I figure that I out I will write another book, sell billions of copies and live on an island and never work again in my life.
HOW is as unique and personalized as each one of us. And the life story that we have lived, are living and will live. HOW is a life long journey of telling and learning from the stories of our life. HOW requires a leap of faith. HOW requires trust in yourself. HOW requires belief in your skills, talents and education.
HOW…ever this is YOUR Day and I am a supporting character in your story. So, when you speak to your friends and family members who are NOT present with us today, please relay that the commencement speaker was funny, entertaining, didn’t talk too long and was good looking.
Since you are still clutching your cell and mentally integrating Spielberg and Abram’s text into your life story, use it to take a selfie of yourself with the great story teller and speaker.
I can wait. Go on. Don’t be shy.
Now tweet it, gram me, Facebook the pic and share it with your world. Tell the story of your graduation ceremony NOW. Because YOU CAN! God I love technology.
From the beginning of time, the power of story has played a major role in the lives of all people. Oral tradition allowed early cultures to maintain historical connections among older generations while entertaining and educating newer generations. Sort of like the ancient tradition of Twitter. Short blurbs about life shared with followers.
Pictures, drawing and hieroglyphics advanced storytelling. Personal and societal histories could be “documented” and retained. Sort of like Instagram. Share a picture and share a story worth 1000 words. You in your cap and gown speaks volumes.
The alphabet inspired the innovations of Chinese printing blocks and Gutenberg’s printing press. These old-school, techno advancements allowed story to be documented then distributed. Sort of like blogs.
Marconi helped story reach a mass audience. Perhaps you are familiar with Orson Well’s great prank The War of the Worlds. What a fabulous podcast of yesteryear.
Zuckerberg allowed documented personal stories and histories of millions of individual people to be widely distributed to highly selective or perhaps not so selective audience.
Story is how we, collectively and individually, know where we have been, where we are and where we are headed. Story is the road map of our lives, full of mile markers known as memories and dreams. Recall that mile marker of being accepted into Argosy, your first class, the first friend you made. Memories have power. They are unleashed through story telling.
Now, imagine the mile markers yet ahead: that new job, that longer title, vice-president of (you fill in the blank), that corner office next to the Keurig machine, that life’s mission on which you are about to embark. Dreams have power. They too are unleashed through storytelling. Story is how we express our thoughts and emotions. Story is the foundation of innovation, creativity and passion.
You have a story. Then again, you already knew that. There is a story in your graduation. There are stories in the Process of your education. There are stories in the Purpose of your education. You have overcome and struggled in order to graduate. You spent many late nights studying for exams, creating the perfect paper and passing final exams that seemed like they were written by a sleep deprived professor who still has not discovered the wonders of 5 hour energy drinks. You invested time to travel to and from school; perhaps after and/or before work in a beater car manufactured in the last century and driven my a family member into the ground only to be resurrected and sold to you since they didn’t get enough of a cash payout from Car Max. You worried about, begged, borrowed and stole to make your tuition payments. You balanced job, family, friends and school. You have faced down adversity and have accomplished something amazing.
You have a story to tell. Shout it from the podcast mountain tops, Post it. Tweet it. Blog it. Gram it.
My story and your story can only see the light of day if we choose to share our tales. Today, as you reminisce and celebrate share the tales of how you got to where you are right at this moment.
Share your stories of HOW you have survived the rigors of college. Share your stories of HOW you developed perseverance and character through the acquisition of a desired degree. Share your stories of HOW you triumphed in the face of adversity. You have earned those podiums.
The future, beyond this afternoon, as your become Alumni of Argosy University, is a story full of dreams, “could bes” and “want to bes.” You went to school for a reason. You have a purpose for your education. A plan. A dream.
Being on the threshold of memory and dream is an extremely thrilling and exciting place to be. Thrilling and exciting is a combination of just enough fear and happiness. Thrilling and exciting are experienced as we think of the challenges ahead, as we ponder the success that leads to our projected happiness while we anticipate and prepare for possible anxiety and saddens of falling short of our goals.
One either embraces thrilling and exciting through story telling or avoids these emotions by keeping the story of past conquests and future battles hidden, deep in a dark place of the soul.
My graduation was dripping with thrilling and exciting. I had a reason, a dream for returning to school. I overcame and preserved much while in school. There still are many dreams to be realized.
It is easier to keep my stories of perseverance and plans for a future not yet realized to myself. Yet, faith in me, my skills, talents, dreams and life lessons already tallied means that I believe in me and a future not guaranteed. Faith generates hope. And hope is the rocket fuel for motivation needed to accomplish amazing things.
We nurture faith through telling our life stories. As you share your stories with your family and friends, you confirm, in the depths of your own mind, that you have faith in your skills, talents, newly minted education and yourself. That faith fuels hope. Hope fuels innovation, creativity and accomplishment. Share your story of your life beyond Argosy, your dreams for the future with all who will listen today, tomorrow and each day after that.
Today is the end of a chapter. A chapter full of memories of perseverance and overcoming adversity. Today is also the beginning of a new chapter. A chapter full of dreams and hopes. Today is magical. Drink it in. Soak it up. Document it! Tell YOUR STORY.