Tom Joyner Fisk Commencement Speech [FULL]

Congratulations Fisk University class of 2013!   Give yourselves a hand.

And to the proud parents out there…especially you moms, what better Mother’s Day gift could you receive?

And for the graduates who are Moms and some evenbe grandmas, look what you’ve accomplished!

What I love about HBCUs is that we recognize from the get go that we don’t do anything by ourselves. So, if you’re in the audience and you had anything to do with these graduates making it to this point, stand up!

They’re still going to need you after today, some need a ride home, but we’ll get to that.

It’s been quite a journey… and I’m not talking about all four years I’m talking about since April 1st when all your finances were due.

First, I want to thank you for inviting me to be your commencement speaker. It is an honor, especially since I realize there are so many other people you could have chosen.You didn’t know it then, but you could have invited some of the Grizzlies to speak.  They’re not busy.

A Monday morning commencement ceremony, huh?  Hey, I’m not mad. Like a lot of you in the audience I had to work today. How many are going to work when you leave here?  How many called sick? I can write you a note. I’m a doctor.  Sure it’s honorary but it’s good.

Now, if you’re barber or a beautician. a Monday commencement works perfectly for you…wait for it.

If you listen to the Tom Joyner Morning Show, you know we do NOT do shout outs. But we do do some “give it up fors….”

So GIVE IT UP FOR your esteemed president Dr. William Harvey. AND GIVE IT UP FOR the administration, faculty and board members.   My friend Adrienne McWilliams is Fisk University board member anda loyalalum of this great institution.  She probably was a good student too.

There’s so much history here…the world renownJubilee Singers.

Historian and former Phi Beta Kappa president John Hope Franklin… sociologist and co-founder of the NAACP W.E.B, Dubois, comedian Kym Whitley, anthropologist and former Spelman and Bennett College president Johnetta B. Cole, Nikki Giovanni, Matthew Knowles, Ida B. Wells

And Fisk is also the place where my childhood Tuskegee friend Howard Kenney’s mom, Ms. Gwen was crowned Miss Fisk. Years later, her daughter Diane carried the same title.

And it’s the place where Aaron Douglas started the art department and where many of his works are still housed.

Don’t take this place, this journey, or this moment lightly. Your names are right among all this greatness because in a little while, you too will be a proud alumnus of Historically Black Fisk University.

Then what? That’s what every wants to know right?  You can barely enjoy or savor this success because you’ve got to have an answer for the question everyone is going to ask. What next? What are your plans? Where are you going from here?

Class of 2013, I wish I could be giving you the commencement speech of long ago, when you could have been told that hundreds of job opportunities await you, the sky is the limit, and I Believe you can Fly. There SOME opportunities, but many of you’ll be competing with a record number of unemployed college grads and laid off skilled, seasoned workers.   You can still fly but let’s just say your baggage won’t fly free. There’s a good chance, no more than chance, that you’re graduating with lots of debt and if you’re blessed enough to find a good job, much of your salary is going to pay off student loans.

But that’s the end of the not-so-good news. The sort of good news will be that you’re going to have to work really hard and really long until you will begin to see the fruits of your labor.

If I may inspire you with a few prophetic words, the apostle St. Paul said,  “The race is not given to the swift nor the strong but he who endures until the end.

Poet BertonBraley said, Don’t give vanished days a backward look,  Start where you stand.

And that poet and philosopher Drake said, “We started from the bottom, now we’re here.”

Yes, you may meet with some struggles, but what great generation hasn’t?

A recent study showed that 62 percent of students in this generation believe it’s important to have a lot of  money.  Described as the Fantasy Gap, that same study shows that this group of students admits that they don’t want to work hard to get the material things they desire.

Another study shows that 80 percent of time people are online at work is un-related to their jobs.

This is more good news for you class of 2013. You know too things for sure. Some of the people you’ll be competing with in the job market have no plans to work hard.  So, you need to prove immediately that you’re hardworking, reliable, willing to get there on time and willing to stay late if necessary.

You’re facing tough times and you have to be tougher to make it.

Here are Tom’s Top Tips for Success after college

  1. Find something you love doing, something you’d be willing to do for free. I got in the radio field not to make a lot of money but it was something I loved and thankfully was pretty good at. That got me in the door, but what’s kept me here is working hard. When no one wanted to take the bad shift I took it on.  From sitting in for the receptionist to selling advertising, I made it known that I was the go-to guy when thing someone wasn’t doing their job. Eventually, you’ll be in such demand that you can COMMAND, the salary that you want.
  2. Get healthy if you aren’t and stay healthy if you are. Today, employers are investing millions in making sure the have a healthy work environment.  But more and more they’re figuring out that the safest way is to make sure the people the hire in the first place are healthy. Unfortunately, people of color who disproportionately sufferer from diseases related to obesity,  poverty, stress, cigarette smoking, alcohol and  the list goes on and on.  Get on a healthy eating and exercise routine.  This goes for mental healthiness too.  Get help if you need it,
  3. Learn to do the Wobble. Not really, I just wanted to see if you all were still listening…although it couldn’t hurt.
  4. Do not do drugs,  Not just because it’s illegal but will hinder your chances of employment
  5. Register to vote and vote…not just in presidential elections…state, local, school, block club, Dancing with the Stars…always stand up and be counted.
  6. Get an internship and if you can’t find one in the field you’re interested in, ask if you can volunteer. The experience you can get will be invaluable.
  7.  Don’t text, tweet, facebook, or fax naked pictures of you, parts of you, or anybody else.
  • Give back, give back, give back. You don’t have to wait 20 or 30 years to make contact with your alma mater. If you don’t have money to send, send yourself, serve as a mentor.
  • It’s okay to move out of the old neighborhood. Just go back to get your hair cut, your hair done, and to inspire the kids to go to college.
  • And this one is from Kobe Bryant.  Get all your old trophies, spelling bee certificates, medals, collectible toys, videos and pictures out of your mamas house.  If you don’t do it in five years after today Mama can do what ever she wants to do with it if you get famous.

You’ve already shown that you have the ability to finish what you’ve started and to move forward.  Some of you endured sickness, strife at home, mental and physical abuse, and death of  a loved one.  But you didn’t stop. You kept going and now look at you.

You’re going to need that mental toughness, that dedication and commitment as you take part two of your journey.

Remember, our ancestors survived and thrived in tougher times than these. George L. White, creator of the Jubilee Singers didn’t give up. The wanted him to persuade his small group of singers to perform in minstrel fashion, but he stood tall and made sure that 9-member choral ensemble  never compromised their dignity.

Artist and educator Aaron Douglas didn’t give up. His art illustrated people of color in a positive and powerful light. He is said to have been the first African American artist to affirm Black identity and the Black experience through is works. Though his famed murals he tells the story of our spirituality and our struggle.

Activist, strategist and coordinator Diane Nash didn’t give up. Her role with Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, the Rock Hill Nine,  and the Freedom Riders was monumental. The Fisk student risked her freedom and her life fighting segregation all over the country.

Class of 2013 you leave here to day standing on the shoulders of those who went before you. Move forward fighting the good fight but no matter how far you go reach back and grab the hand of someone else.

I can hear the rumblings in the audience. Those are good words, Tom Joyner, but when am I going to start making some money? The answer is right now.   It won’ t make you rich but it’s a start. Don’t forget to gas up the car of the one who brought you!

Congratulations Class of 2013. Keep making us proud!


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