Commencement Address 2016 - Steve Amen

Last summer I sat in the blazing sun in Corvallis for three hours watching my son Chase, and 38-hundred others, graduate from OSU. It was an emotional time...The event was filled with all the pomp and circumstance befitting OSU’s largest graduating class. It was a very proud moment seeing our son, in full regalia, parading by.

And I remember thinking, “Thank god....I’ll never have to sit through one of these again.” 

And yet, here I the commencement speaker no less. So why am I here?  It’s not just that I have some winter weight I need to get rid of, and I was looking for a reason to justify wearing my graduation/solar blanket in the high desert sun. 

No, I am honored to be asked to play a small role in celebrating this huge milestone in your life.

You may notice this ceremony is not called a graduation, but rather a commencement. The term graduation implies the act of finishing your course of study. Which is why calling this a commencement is much more appropriate. The word commencement is derived from a 13th century French word meaning beginning or start.  

And as students, you are beginning a new chapter in your life. The focus should be on the future, not on the past.

The timing for this speech couldn’t be I mentioned, my son is a recent graduate....and I have plenty of left over, sage only hope today is that you will actually listen.

There is a lot of responsibility in giving a commencement, looking for inspiration and quotable quotes, I googled.

And that’s when I came across a press release by OSU letting folks know I would be this summer’s commencement speaker.  Always nice to see your name in print until I scrolled down and read the one AND ONLY said, simply: “Quite the academic institution, having an OPB producer as commencement speaker. Pretty low bar.”

He was right.... You now have a television producer trying to provide inspiration to a generation of graduates who rarely, if ever, watch television. Fortunately for me, many of you are a bit older than your typical college graduate.....something I can definitely relate to.  I started in 69 and graduated in 86. Given that, who am I to stand up here and try and memorialize this occasion with as compelling and inspiring a message as I can muster? 

Well, I am not the old fish trying to tell you young fish about water. Nooooooo....I am the embodiment of the saying that has tormented you most of your lives: “If I can do it, you can too”.

True confession time: There is absolutely nothing special about me. I grew up outhouse poor in Wyoming. But we were the first in our neighborhood to get an indoor toilet with running water....we were very popular in the snow covered winter months.

When I was in the chorus of a musical in high school, I was asked to lip synch. My grades were only slightly above average. OSU didn’t even respond to my college application. But PSU did. And in case you’re wondering: that’s Portland...not Penn State.

I became a theatre major who couldn’t after a couple of years I dropped out and went to work fulltime. 

But despite my meteoric rise in retail as the department head of sewing machines and vacuum cleaners...I knew something was missing....and like many of you, headed back to college. I changed my major to speech communication...strangely enough, telling people you have a BS in talking doesn’t open a lot of doors.

And yet, despite all that, I have had an amazing life.

I have been a witness to history: 

May 18, 1980, I was in a small airplane, circling an erupting 

Mt. St. Helens....a spectacular sight I will never forget.

I helped cover the Iranian hostage crisis.  (Some of you may have to ask your parents what that was.)

Tommy Lee Jones threatened to rough me up when I was interviewing

the stars of the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

I spent a year-and-a-half getting to know juvenile offenders of violent crimes for an HBO documentary I produced called “Teen Killers: A Second Chance.”

I’ve interviewed 3 presidents, 5 governors, countless legislators

and hundreds of everyday folks who were infinitely more interesting.

And for the last 30 years I have been paid to spend time in some of the most beautiful spots in Oregon and on dancing grebes and wild Kiger mustangs, find out everything there is to know about slugs and possums, explore unmapped geologic wonders, help our viewers navigate the so-called urban/rural divide......basically share Oregon’s environmental treasures on Oregon Field Guide. (Thursday nights at 8:30)

But what does all this mean to you?  

Remember: “If I can do it, you can too.”

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that you love so much you're just a little bit jealous of those that haven't seen it yet because they still have the opportunity to experience it for the first time?

That's what I think of when I look at all of you and what lies ahead.  But while I envy your upcoming journey, I know it isn’t going to be easy.

Some of you will be transitioning from college back to your parent’s basement...fortunately most of you are from around here. Moving back home used to be a running’s not any’s a fact of life. 

The economy is so bad, one study says about half of all graduates expect to be supported financially by their parents for up to two years after graduation. That same study apparently didn’t feel a need to ask the parents how they feel about it.

My son Chase, many of his a recent graduate living at home...truly believed his diploma would be the golden ticket. He has been actively looking for just the right job, and is getting anxious about finding it. I tried to reassure doesn’t have to be the perfect job....he still has plenty of time to find that, after all he’s only 43.  Okay, cheap joke.  He’s 24 and, like many of you, very nervous.      

Thanks to your time here, you are uniquely qualified for the challenges that lie, I’m not talking about your degree....You are used to being poor and taking jobs you don’t like, but pay the bills while you prepare for your future.  

I love where I am now, but some of the best times I ever had happened along the way.....It is all about attitude.                                                                    

So while it may not be quick or easy, I encourage you to do all you can to embrace the adage “happiness is a journey, not a destination.”          

And while you prepare for that journey, It was Bono who said: “I used to think the future was solid or fixed, something you inherited like an old building that you move into when the previous generation moves. But it’s not. The future is not fixed; it’s fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo....the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”

And while you may not know exactly where you’re heading, you can decide how you want to get there. Go for it, but don’t get caught should try and plan for the future, but make sure you embrace what is happening now.                                  

My roadmap came in the form of one of the few books I read in college that wasn’t a requirement. The book is called “The Teachings of Don Juan” by Carlos Castaneda, an American author with a Ph.D. in anthropology.  To this day I still can’t figure out what first motivated me to pick up a book that was actually Castaneda’s Master’s thesis. 

But I am eternally grateful I did. There was a section in there that literally changed my life....and is the essence of my message today. FINALLY!

Castanada wrote; “Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path.”

That single paragraph became my mantra...”Choose a path with a heart.”

I can actually feel you rolling your eyes... but one of the advantages of being as old as I am is that I no longer feel the need to appear cool. Because I am old, I can get away with being corny, perhaps even nauseatingly sentimental and simplistic in my outlook on life.              

This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your friends, or even your significant’s all yours.

For some of you, it will be your career.  For others, it will be doing what it takes to provide for your family. And then there are those of you, who will live for the free time. It’s your call.

For me, in the beginning, it was all about my career. “Choose a path with a heart” became my guide book for what was to come.

Not too long after reading the book I took an internship at KATU-TV in Portland.  I did it as a lark.....a fun way to spend one of my final terms at PSU...a chance to get off campus. I had absolutely no intention of going into television. 

But that internship was my alarm clock...four weeks into it I found my path...TV news.  I had always enjoyed writing and loved still photography...and my life goal at the time was to do something with that...perhaps work for a magazine or newspaper...dodged that bullet.

I fell in love with the fast pace and daily deadlines....every day was truly a new never knew what your next assignment would be.

Nearing graduation, I just needed to convince the folks at K-2 that, despite being a speech major who had only taken one video production class, I was qualified to work in a market the size of Portland.                                  

I knew this was what I wanted, so I approached this challenge the same way I had approached all the jobs that I had applied for......I may not have been the best, but I was the most persistent.                                                

I am erosion. I will just wear you down.

They eventually surrendered and hired me as a was a start.  I was quickly promoted to the role of news producer, putting the nightly newscast together...but while I enjoyed the path I was on, I still wanted more.

I wanted to be in front of the camera and that was not going to happen at K-2. I now had to decide between staying the course and continue doing what I liked for good money....or take a chance...follow my heart...and move on.

Living in central Oregon, I’m sure most of you have gone snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or simply hiking in deep snow — you know that breaking a trail is always harder than following a path.

There’s an obvious metaphor here for whatever else it is you choose to do in life. I ended up moving to another city, a smaller market where there was more potential for growth.

I created my first on-air job: reviewing movies.....I didn’t now much about movies and had no on-camera experience, but I did know it would be great if I could get into the theatres for free and advance my career at the same I worked out a deal with the news director to do it all on my own time. 

It was not a financially brilliant move on my part...back then it cost you $3.00 to see a movie.  I would then spend about four hours writing and rewriting the review before I taped it...add another three hours to edit the review for a grand total of 7 working hours to save $3.00...that comes to 43 cents an hour. But I could now add “on-air reporter” to my resume and had the tape to prove it. That led to me becoming a reporter and eventually the Executive Producer and Host of Oregon Field guide, a job I’ve held for the last 29 years.

And again, all because I stayed true to my path with a heart.

But lest you think I’m up here looking at the world through the proverbial rose colored glasses...I give you the insight of Thomas Friedman, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author whose has reported on International Economics.

He also emphasizes doing what you love...and is quick to add, that advice is no longer “warm and gooey career advice but actually a very hard-headed survival strategy because all the boring, repetitive jobs are going to be automated or outsourced. The good jobs will be the jobs that demand or encourage some uniquely human creative flair, passion and imagination. In other words, jobs that can only be done by people who love what they do and willing to change with changing times.

Bringing joy and passion and optimism to your work is not what you get to do when you get to the top. It is HOW you get to the top.                         

And just in case you need one more reason to truly love what you do...consider this: The current, average retirement age is 62—but according to at least one study...and this is pretty new college graduates won’t be able to retire until your 75 years old.  Seventy.....five.

So you sure as hell better like what you’re doing.                                   

College was great, but your real ride begins today. So hang on, enjoy the trip and remember - you are behind the wheel.