Villa Park High School
2011 Baccalaureate Speech

Good afternoon, it is truly my honor to be here.

Villa Park High School 2011 graduates, please accept my sincere congratulations for a job well done. Everyone here tonight is proud of you and what you have accomplished. Yet, soon you have big choices to make such as what should you do next and how should you get started?

Welcome to college and Personal Mission 101. Class is in session. Let me submit that you are on this planet for a reason. It is no accident that you are here. Everyone is unique, has a special talent, and has a purpose. Let’s call this your “personal mission.”

Much of what you have done up to now has been about being the same as everyone else including things like following the rules, standing in line with no talking, doing what you are told to do, and not making waves. Am I right? Well, it is time to let go of that.

Instead, it is time to celebrate your uniqueness. Here is a simple example. Let’s say that everyone on the planet has just four fingers. Unlike them, you have four fingers and a thumb. While the thumb may seem odd to some or many of the others, your thumb is what makes you special. No one on earth is like you. Your thumb should be celebrated. Long live the thumb!

By the way, are there any geeks out there? You geeks are all thumbs. You guys are so cool. You may not know it yet, but soon you will find out. Trust me.

Your first job after high school is to discover your purpose and your reason for being. Why do you exist? Now that is a heavy question and I suppose most of you have not given it a lot of thought. To save you that trouble, here is the simple answer. You exist to fulfill your own unique purpose, whatever that may be. That is why you exist.

You have a responsibility to live by your own personal mission and purpose. Maybe that purpose is to invent things like software or music. Your purpose could be to lead or teach others. You might have one purpose, or you might have many purposes. Whatever it is, that mission is exclusively yours. It does not matter what your purpose is as long as you do it. You must embrace it. You must live with intention.

Alas, here is the rub — you must first discover your purpose before you can do it. Yes, that may not be easy. And, I have three more questions for you to answer:

1. What is your life about?
2. What do you stand for?
3. What are you doing to fulfill that purpose?

Here is an exercise that might help get you going. Imagine that it is your 80th birthday and you are having a big party and all your family, friends, and neighbors have gathered to hear you speak. What would you tell them was most important in your life? What did you do for the last 80 years? How do you want to be remembered? What really mattered?

Your personal mission will be your compass. It helps you make the right choices. Your personal mission is a lens to help you make the right decisions, big or small. Let’s pretend that your mission is become a lawyer who battles for human rights issues and the homeless. Here are three examples when your mission can help you:

1. Someone suggests that you should consider becoming a drug dealer since they make a lot of money. Clearly this is not a good idea and not consistent with your mission.
2. A cashier gives you an extra $5.00 by mistake. Should you give it back? Your mission will help you do the right thing (yes, you should give the extra money back).
3. You witness a hit and run accident and take a photo of the license plate of the fleeing automobile. Should you contact the police? While that seems the right thing to do, it will cost you time and be inconvenient. Yes, it is the right thing to do.

Your mission may change over time so you may need to adjust it now and then. Talk about your mission to others. Carry a copy of your mission in your wallet. Post it on Facebook. Live it daily.

While you think about your own purpose, here is my story. I did not have a lot growing up or that is how I felt. Truth be known, I was selfish, needy, and egocentric. I wanted money and power and fame. That was my mission (misguided as it was) and I was going to get my MBA and be a corporate warrior. Wall Street here I come. You had better get out of my way, since I was very aggressive.

Guess what? I got it all: fancy job titles, the corner office, traveled the world, really cool cars, big houses, lots of money, and power. Yet, the higher I climbed the corporate ladder, the shallower it became. I was lonely and unfulfilled. I did not like the people I worked with and, even worse, I did not like myself. So I walked away from it.

And by walking away I found a new and improved personal mission. My mission today is to give to others unconditionally (I ask for nothing in return), to write and speak about what really matters, to teach and coach others, and to help others find their purpose.

Today I live that purpose. When someone calls, I answer. When people ask me for my help, I help them. I ask for nothing in return because I know I will be rewarded later (maybe a lot later or even in the afterlife). In fact, that is why I am here today; you asked me come speak. I now write books and blogs about things that matter. I teach students at the University and I do my best to inspire Entrepreneurship.

Because of my mission, my phone rings all the time. People call me for answers and for help. And, as for the money, I still get it anyway, but I don’t need it like before. I live my personal mission and I live my life with intention. I am happy. But, I did keep the car (it’s really cool).

Now, let’s get back to you grads. As for life after high school, it is totally awesome out there (in the real world). In fact the future is so bright that “I gotta wear shades.” Whoops, I just dated myself since that’s a song from the ‘80s. No matter since I think you get the point.

You may have heard about some the challenges in the economy. Things are tougher or different than just a few years ago. I like to call it the “new normal.” I remain optimistic that we can make things better by moving forward and not lamenting what was lost. By the way, don’t bother listening to the news since the news reporters cannot see the opportunities like you and I can.

Trust me, it is a time of incredible opportunity, but things are changing so fast that most of the adults cannot keep up with it. For example, Facebook has nearly 700 million users and 1 out of every 8 minutes spent online is on Facebook. Facebook didn’t exist before 2006. How about mobile phones? There are nearly 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers; that’s 80 percent of the world population. Can you say iPhone? The iPhone has only been available since 2007. Finally, YouTube has over 2 billion videos viewed every day. YouTube was only started in 2005.

These new tools have turned the world of work upside down. Heck, you can build your own company on your Mac in your bedroom while listening to iTunes. The new workplace needs people that are adaptable, flexible, and a bit fearless. Employers need people who get it (i.e. workers who understand the tools). The pace of work and life has dramatically accelerated. Meanwhile, your parents feel like they blinked and everything changed. They did blink and things did change. They feel left out.

You grads are saying so what’s the big deal about Facebook, iPhones, and video? That response is why you guys are so perfect for the new normal. You didn’t blink. You get it

It is very cliché in speeches like this to talk about working hard, not expecting things to be handed to you on a silver platter, and how important it is learn from your failures. I chose not to dwell on the obvious. But, yes, you need to work hard and there are no silver platters.

As for failure, it happens; so acknowledge it and move on to the next opportunity. But, I want you to fail quickly. When you do fail, don’t fixate on it. The new normal demands that you keep moving forward and a little stumbling is to be expected. Keep moving forward quickly to the next opportunity. You have no time to waste on lamenting what did or did not happen. Thus, I want you to succeed quickly and fail even faster.

So now it is up to you. Go ahead and seek advice from others about what you should do with your life, but choose what is right for you. The right path might mean you choose to do something different than what your parents, your friends, or your teachers recommend. That is OK. You are in charge now. The cool part is that it is your path, your mission, and it is your choice.

Regardless of the path you choose, you must celebrate your uniqueness. Remember and celebrate your thumb — you are an original work of art. I challenge you to go forward with purpose. I beg you to please save the planet and make it better for all that follow you.

And above all, choose wisely.

John Bradley Jackson
Entrepreneur, Professor, Author
Deja New Marketing
© Copyright 2011

About the author
  1. T. Craig Jackson

    JJ. Very well done. Hope you smiled alot. Craig

  2. Richard Ginnaty

    Hi John,
    It’s been a couple of years since we talked but I caught this on LInkedin and read it….well done. Telling young people that it takes guts to be unique, but that is their destiny, so they might as well embrace it (Honoring the thumb), that’s a good message. Adding in that the path is not necessarily on a straight line (your adventures), and that for most of us the path changes with our life experiences (it evolves as we do) is another “truth”. Good luck with your classes (I assume you cont. to teach modern (social media centric) marketing to the entrepreneurs at CSUF, and cont. to talk/speak as often as you can.

    Dick Ginnathy

  3. Ray Valencia

    Hi John, I’m really glad you posted this. It’s not a bad idea to reflect on these things even well after graduation.

    You’re so right about having to consistently make decisions based on the big picture person you want to be. It is tough and you will falter at times but…. it’s the people who get back on track who earn true respect.

    I wish we had more time to chat, I applaud you for the work you do. Those with drive do well on their own but those who do for others… now that’s something special.

    Take care John…

  4. Thanks Ray,

    Nice to hear from you. Please come visit the Center soon.


  5. That looks like a fine speech. Nicely done.

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