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May 15, 2020 12 mins

In this episode of Commencement: Speeches for the Class of 2020, Grammy- and Academy Award-winning R&B singer/songwriter John Legend gives new graduates inspiration and wisdom as they take their first steps into adulthood.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Commencement Speeches for the Class of is a production of
I Heart Radio. Class of Parents, Faculty, rising graduates, Welcome
to commencement. You made it. This year is a little different,

(00:23):
a difficult time to graduate because the traditional graduation day
has been put on hold. So we're bringing it to
you wherever you are, because this is still your day,
your moment. And now put your hands together. It's time
to be inspired. This year's commencement speaker, the one and
only John Legend. Greetings, this is John Legend. Now you

(00:54):
may normally hear my voice on this app when I'm
singing a love song, but I'm honored to have the
chance to speak to you today to share in this
special moment. Congratulations to our class of Our high school
graduates are college graduates wherever you're graduating from now. Years ago,
when you realize you would be graduating in you were

(01:16):
probably like, Wow, that's gonna sound cool forever. The class
of a nice round number with a certain symmetry to it,
a number which suggested that your vision was perfect. What
a fantastic class to be a part of. What could
possibly go wrong? Of course, your final semester did take
quite an unpredictable turn. My goodness, I can only imagine

(01:41):
how disappointing the loss of the physical experience of your
final semester, the physical experience of graduating with your friends.
Maybe for some of you and for your loved ones
who are proud of your accomplishments. What we often remember
most from our graduations aren't the pieces of paper we receive,
but the hugs, the smiles, the physical connection with our classmates.

(02:04):
I hope that even though today may not be what
you dreamed of, what we planned for, that you still
feel pride in the culmination of the work that got
you to this point. It's my hope that years from now,
when we look back on this unprecedented time, that we
remember not the moments we lost, but the way we

(02:25):
rose up together to imagine a better future, and which
we defined ourselves by love, hope, resilience, and a spirit
of community. I hope we remember the ways in which
we supported one another, how we made personal sacrifices for
the greater benefit of all, how in these trying times
we came to truly understand our own potential and the

(02:48):
strength of the bonds that tie us to one another.
The reason I'm here. The reason I've had such a
wonderful journey in my life thus far is that I
found love. Yes, love, We were all made to love,
and I found that we live our best lives. We
are at our most successful, not simply because we're smarter

(03:09):
than everyone else, or because we hustle harder, not because
we become millionaires more quickly. The key to success, the
key to happiness, is opening your mind and your heart
to love, spending your time doing things you love with
people you love. I believe that during uncertain and trying times,

(03:30):
we must lean on love to show us our clearest
path forward, and that when you trust what your heart
is telling you, love will be your north star. For me,
I found love and music growing up in Ohio. Music
was always at the heart of our family. My parents
cherished music, and they encouraged our creativity at every step.

(03:52):
I begged to take piano lessons. When I was four,
I started singing in the church choir and in school plays.
By the time I was seven, I fell in love
with music at a very young age. My maternal grandmother
was our church organist, and on Sundays after church, I
would go to her house just to hang out with her.
She would teach me how to play gospel piano. She

(04:13):
was one of my favorite people on the planet. She
passed away at only fifty eight years old, though when
I was ten, and her death devastated my family. My
world was shattered. The pain of losing her drove my
parents apart, and I was confused and disoriented. After the
initial shock of my family breaking apart, my outward response

(04:36):
wasn't very emotional. I coped by being stoic and seemingly unaffected.
I thought, if I just sold it on and didn't
expose myself to any more pain and vulnerability, I could
never get hurt. I did let myself love music deeply
and without reservation, though pouring every ounce of my passion
into it. I spent so much of my spare time

(04:57):
working on it that I barely got any sleep people
at night. I was doing community choirs, show choir and
musicals in high school, a cappella and a church choir
in college. I wrote my own songs, played in talent shows.
I put a lot of energy into becoming a better artist,
a better writer, a better performer, and in some ways

(05:18):
it made me a better student and a better leader.
Because when you actually care about something, you want to lead.
Apathy is not so cool anymore. When I graduated from college,
I took a detour. It was the path a lot
of my pen classmates were taking. I accepted a role
with Boston consulting group. Yeah. I spent my days preparing
financial models and PowerPoint presentations, but just as much time

(05:42):
at night writing songs and performing around New York and Philadelphia.
I couldn't forget my love for music. I always believed
that my big break would come sooner rather than later.
In fact, from while I was still in college to
early two thousand and four, I spent each of those
years always thinking that I would get that big record
deal within the next few months. I always thought my

(06:04):
moment was just around the corner. But I was rejected
by all the major labels. Some of them rejected me
multiple times. I played for all the giants of the business,
Clive Davis, l A Read, Jimmy Ivy, and you name it,
and all of them turned me down. But I did
find a young producer from Chicago named Kanye West who
believed in me. Kanye happened to be the cousin of

(06:26):
my classmate roommate and good friend d Von Harris Levan
introduced me to Kanye in two thousand one, and we
started working together not long after that. Our collaboration has
been a huge part of my career, and it had
a lot to do with me finally getting a major
recording contract in two thousand four. It even led to
me meeting the photographer that introduced me to my future wife,

(06:46):
which led me to where I am now with two
kids knocking on the dining room door waiting for Daddy
to finish his speech. When I look back, ultimately, the
most defining moments in my life were those that resulted
from things that didn't go exactly according to plan. I
learned about perseverance and the significance of trust in your
heart even in the face of rejection, the importance of

(07:08):
a bit of good luck, but also being prepared to
take advantage of luck when it comes your way. You
probably feel pretty unlucky to graduate to enter the job
market right now, during these uncertain and daunting weeks and months.
I don't blame you. This is uncharted territory, but this
is precisely the time when we need to be strong,

(07:29):
to be imaginative, to push through our fears and get
to work. I have the honor and the responsibility of
addressing you during a time that is open ended, a
time that provides endless possibilities for us to reimagine the
world in which we live. History has shown us that
we are most capable of making dramatic changes to repair
our country after crises, from the Great Depression to the

(07:52):
most recent financial crisis. This is our opportunity to respond
to something tragic in a way that showcases our unit
tea and our belief that a recovery can be more
than a recovery, but a rebirth, a renaissance where the
new normal is better than the normal we left behind.
We can raise our voices together to create something we

(08:14):
are proud of. We can do that if we lead
with love. Love can change the world. There are seven
billion other people out there, seven billion strangers. I want
you to consider what it means to love them too.
What does it mean to love people we don't know,
To see the value in every single person's life, Valuing
every hospital worker, from the doctors to the cleaning crew,

(08:36):
Valuing every worker that we now see as essential but
may be overlooked and underpaid, Before honoring every life lost
to this horrible virus, whether they're in China, Iran, or
around the corner, whether you know them or not. If
you're committed to loving and public it requires you to
opening your eyes to injustice, to see the world through

(08:58):
the eyes of another. This is not a passive activity.
You have to read, you have to travel to other neighborhoods,
other parts of the world. You may have to get
your hands dirty. You have to allow people to love
you and you have to love them back. So what's
gonna stop you, what's going to stand in your way,
what's going to keep you from achieving your success? What

(09:18):
will prevent you from going all in on love? We're
taught when we're young that the opposite of love is hate,
But it's not. Hate is a byproduct hate as a result.
Being a hater isn't cool. Nobody wants that. But hate
comes from another thing. Fear and fear is the opposite
of love. It's not a coincidence that when we talk

(09:40):
about bigotry we often talk in terms of fear. Homophobia,
xenophobia islamophobia. Fear is what blinds us. Fear is corrosive.
Fear makes us hold back, It whispers to us, tells
us that will fail, tells us that our differences are
too much to overcome. Fear locks us in play, it
starts fights, it causes wars, and fear keeps us from loving.

(10:05):
Even though we're made to love, we're often afraid to love.
We're afraid of being hurt, deeply afraid of feeling the
pain I went through when my parents divorced. But you're
never going to really love something or someone unless you
put those fears aside, don't hold back. Being in love
means being ready to give freely and openly, and being
ready to risk something, risking pain and disappointment. Conquering your

(10:27):
fears and becoming a new love is all consuming. It
infiltrates your body. It's what allows you to experience bliss, joy,
and true friendship. You'll be more disappointed when something goes wrong,
you might fall harder. But the only way you'll reach
any height in life and in love is by taking

(10:48):
the chance that you might fall. You have to give
your all, so as you navigate through this difficult, scary time,
I asked that you remember to focus on a true
north star are in all of our lives. Love? I
ask you to love fully and holy be it. The
work you do, the people you give your time to,
the places you go, let yourself love. We can come

(11:11):
together to figure out how to best respond in a
time of crisis. Through love, compassion, empathy, creativity, activism, the
conscious decision to rebuild a more loving community, a society,
or we all can flourish to the class of I'm
proud of you. I hope you use your gifts to

(11:32):
create a better world. Thank you for listening to me. Congratulations.
I'm so glad I could be a part of your
special day. Take care. You can find the collection of

(11:53):
incredible commencement addresses from all your favorite speakers at the
Commencement Podcast on I Heart Radio or wherever you listen
into podcasts.
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