2016 Quincy Notre Dame Commencement Speech

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To the QND Class of 2016:

Thirty-four years ago…just like you…I put on my gold graduation gown and walked with the Quincy Notre Dame Class of 1982.

Senior year I dated the brother of your physics teacher, Mr. Damm. And I’m delighted to say that Robert Damm and I are now very happily married. To other people. I spent many days in the band and nights out with the sister of your Spanish Teacher, Mr. Obert.  And I’m happy to say that Judy Obert and I are still around to talk about it, and that she is my special guest today. I sat in class next to Nevin McNally’s mom Mary, Madelyn Vahle’s dad Tony and Chandler Shankland’s dad Greg. I watched Ben Welper’s dad Vic play basketball alongside Aubrey Reis’ dad Tony, who was football teammates with Parker Kientzle’s dad Fred. My mom graduated from here in 1957—actually she moved her senior year, but they invited her back for every class reunion. And we just returned from a road trip to Wichita in my sister’s SUV, while we were there we said goodbye to my Uncle Larry. He was a member of the Christian Brothers class of 1966, and his picture still hangs in the walls here at QND.

Actually, it’s not a coincidence that so many of our relatives graduated from here. Notre Dame is a unique and special place. A welcoming place. A spiritual place. Your parents know that. They wanted for you what they had….high school years you could look back on with fondness. So let them take a lot of pictures of you today. Smile and wear your cap and gown longer than you want to without complaining…and let them proudly post those pictures on their Facebook and Instagram pages and let them tag you. Maybe give them a “like.” Just one or two. 

Currently, my resume says I am the morning drive anchor for ABC News Radio…delivering hourly updates to stations across the country. I calculated that throughout my time at ABC, my years at WTMJ in Milwaukee, and in my role as a morning show co-host at a Classic Rock station in Champaign—Z95—Where the Z is for Zeppelin, I have told people what is going on at the top or bottom of the hour…more than 81,000 times. 

Those newscasts have included the First Gulf War, the Los Angeles Riots, the OJ Simpson verdict, the Columbine massacre, the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9-11, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, Arab Spring, the financial collapse and recession, the death of Osama Bin Laden, the Boston Marathon Bombings and most recently, the ISIS-inspired attacks on Paris and Brussels. It hasn’t all been depressing, though. I’ve reported on presidential elections, and New York City blizzards, and super bowls and opening days and and royal weddings. But it all started…with lunch menus. 

Right out of college from SIU-Carbondale with a degree in communications, I could NOT find a job doing what I wanted to do: be on the radio. So, I worked at the closest thing I could think of: A stereo store in Champaign where they sold radios. It was called “Good Vibes” and the TV commercial went “The best place to go for your car audio….good vibes….good vibes….” It was—THE 80’S. 

On weekends and after work, I would go around to all the radio stations in town and drop off my resume tape…I was turned down by every single one. Finally I drove 20 miles up the road to WRTL-AM in Rantoul. They told me I could have the job of reading school lunch menus on the air. They actually used to do that! And of course I said yes. Every morning…before going to work at Good Vibes…Good Vibes….I would drive up Highway 45…go into the studio…turn on the mic and say….today’s lunch will be macaroni and cheese, applesauce, green salad, tater tots, and milk (white or chocolate). The pay? Nothing. Unless you count experience, a foot in the door, and the chance to do what you love as pay. Let’s face it…when you start out…you’re not gonna make a whole lot of money doing anything….so why not do what you love and have fun doing it? It may…just turn into a career. 

It seems that our lives are divided up into stages. And at each stage, you grow just a little bit more. Until you eventually become your whole self. But the thing is—you don’t realize you’re becoming your whole self while it’s happening….A man named Allen Saunders is the one they say who actually wrote the quote—but John Lennon is the one who made it famous in his song Beautiful Boy: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Everyone’s journey is his or her own…and your experiences will be completely different than mine—and from the person sitting next to you. But here are a few things that just might happen to you…while you’re busy making other plans.

Your life begins…at Stage One: Birth through age 5. I call these The Please Don’t Ruin Me Years. They’re probably the most crucial to your development. If you’re NOT messed up by age 5…thank your family. You’ve got a pretty good chance of making it. 

Age 5-15: The Learning Years. You learn how to get along with people. You learn how to study. You learn how to be a teammate, a brother or sister, cousin, a friend, a student. You begin to learn a skill. Maybe a sport, a language, an art, music, writing, something you do that makes you just a little different than everybody else. 

Age 15-about 25: “The Figuring Out Who You Are Years.” You’re gonna like these years. High school was just the start. Maybe your eyes were opened up a little bit here at QND to things you never realized before. Brace yourself for what’s coming because it’s great. During this time, you will meet people you never imagined meeting—people who aren’t like you. You will hear music you didn’t know was out there, read books you didn’t know existed, and develop ideas you didn’t know you were capable of. You will be poor and you will learn to survive on ramen noodles and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But you will usually find enough money to go out on Friday nights. You will have your heart broken. And even though it may break your parents’ hearts to know that they were maybe not the first ones you called to tell about it…you will realize the importance of having just a few really good friends in your life. If you’re lucky, you may fall in love. For real this time. And then—again, if you’re lucky– you may just have found…your best friend. 

Age 25-40: “The What The Heck Am I Doing Years.” You will begin working, you will learn how to manage that little bit more money than you had in college. You will deal with great bosses and horrible bosses and motivated co-workers and lazy co-workers and crappy hours and hours that you can live with. And you will make it work. You will learn to budget your money, including student loan payments. Yes, you’ll survive those too. If you decide to have kids, you will probably think you’re doing everything wrong…At first you won’t know how to change diapers, or deal with a fever or give an infant a bath, or know how to swaddle (nobody ever really knows how to swaddle). But with the help of that invaluable family and those loyal friends…you’ll get it. You will move from job to job and place to place, in search of a new tribe, knowing that your home tribe is always back here in Quincy or wherever, should you need them. 

Age 40-50: “The Oh My Gosh I’m Really An Adult Years.” These are the tricky ones. You may worry about how to pay for your kids’ college, how to cover the mortgage on that house you bought and those two car payments. You may get—no, you will get—stressed out at times. But….you will have more freedom, more respect, and more time. You get to see your kids become the adults you hoped they’d become. You start to become a mentor to others because now, they look up to YOU. How did that happen? 

After that…..well, I don’t have too much to go on. I’m thinking these will be the “Maybe I Didn’t Mess It Up Too Bad And Hey This Is Kind Of Fun” Years. I can tell you what I’m hoping for. I’m hoping that I spend this time my father. Doc Preston taught here at QND full-time during these years of his life..and they were among his happiest. Some people look upon those younger than them with resentment and jealousy. Others learn from them, guide them, and become younger inside because of them. My dad is one of those people. Be like him. Be nice. Follow the Golden Rule. That’s simple enough…right? 

As you embark on the Figuring It Out, What Am I Doing, Oh My Gosh I’m An Adult and the Maybe I Didn’t Mess It Up Too Bad Years…some things to think about. 

1. From comedian Louis C.K. Put down your phone now and then. Stare into space.  Be bored. This is not the advice of someone who laments that your generation is missing out in some way because you were brought up always being online. You are more aware and more connected to the world than any generation before you.  Your phone is how you interact, how you get your information, how you learn about things, how you pass on what you’ve learned to others. It is, quite simply how you communicate. However, it is also the source of endless videos of babies and bears and cats and people trying to eat cinnamon…so every once in a while, try ignoring all of it for a while.  While you’re doing your own thing, maybe, drop out of social media for an hour or a day or a week. You can always post things later…and you can always go back. But occasionally…just sit and do nothing. Some of your best ideas come when you let your mind wander.

2. From ABC’s Barbara Walters. Do Your homework. Whether it’s for a job interview or an interview with Saddam Hussein, know what your’e talking about. 

3. From Abraham Lincoln: Vote. You have finally earned this privilege…you’re old enough to walk into that booth and cast a ballot…and what a year to cast one. You don’t have to tell anyone who you voted for…but you have a responsibility to all the rest of us to take that privilege seriously.  Our 16th President said that elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds…then they have to sit on their blisters. Let’s not sit on blisters for four years, what do you say?

4. From my husband, David Landis. Remember that setbacks…are  almost always temporary. 

5. And from me. Love yourself. Believe in yourself. Listen to yourself. And most importantly, BE your true self.  At times it’s difficult to be your true self others say you “should” be this or you “should” be that. The only thing you should be….is yourself.

In closing…as you head out the door and onto your parents’ Facebook pages…a few things to maybe keep in mind as you take the world by storm—which, because you are QND graduates, you will, of course, do.

Work extra hours on the job. It’ll pay off in time. 

Embrace new technology and change along with it. Of course I realize radio is an evolving medium…today’s newscasts are tomorrow’s podcasts and beyond.  You make yourself invaluable when you offer to learn new things—and evolution is a part of life, so why fight it?

Don’t complain at work. Nobody wants to hear it. 

Volunteer for others. It makes you feel good inside. 

Don’t show up for job interviews late. Or early. Just show up right on time. 

Be a little cynical. It’s a tool that truthfully, you may need in life. However, 

Don’t be so cynical that you become bitter. And always wrap your cynicism with empathy. Try to think how others feel. 

Take time out every day to pray, meditate, or just take in some quiet. You’ll be amazed at what a positive influence it has on your life.

When you can, and when the news isn’t TOO depressing, sing on the job and at home. It may annoy your family and co-workers at first. But….it’ll make you happy. And when you’re happy, you make those around you happy too. They may even sing along. 

Finally Don’t give up. If something doesn’t work, tweak it and try again. Practice, and try again. Give it another shot, and try again. Take another stab at it, and try again. Do it one more time…and try again. You, Quincy Notre Dame class of 2016, are capable of changing the world. Now——go do it.  Congratulations, all the best. and good luck!

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