Brad Meltzer: 2012 Commencement Address PSU-LV (with introductions)


Uploaded by PSULehighValley on 30.05.2012

Transcript:
It is also tradition for a representative of the Penn State Lehigh Valley Faculty Senate
to have the privilege of introducing the Commencement Speaker. So, at this time I would like to
introduce Dr. Peter Behrens. Dr. Behrens is an assistant professor of Psychology and presently
serves as the Vice-Chair of the Faculty Senate. Would you please welcome Dr. Peter Behrens.
Good Morning! My daunting task right now is to "decode" Brad Meltzer in a scant 2 minutes.
Besides his popular History Channel series, "Brad Meltzer's Decoded", he is most widely
acclaimed for his award winning suspense novels, 8 to date, covering Wall Street to Capital
Hill. You may recognize some of the titles: The Tenth Justice, Dead Even and The Zero
Game, among the others. He has a popular website, www.ordinarypeoplechangetheworld.com dedicated
to the simple, but elegant principle that all of us have potential to do great and lasting
things. From the perspective of education, particularly of young people, starting with
his own children, he has written Heroes for My Daughter and Heroes for My Son which celebrate
the qualities of leadership, values and determination drawn from more than 50 notables, the likes
of George Washington, Rosa Parks and Muhammed Ali. And finally, from the perspective that
many of us can relate to, Brad has celebrated teaching, writing about special teachers who
have touched his life -in English and History and more. I shared my enthusiasm about Brad
and his work a few days ago with a retired high school classmate of mine, who also is
a retired teacher and this is what he excitedly wrote back to me in an email message:
Hello Pete, I taught Brad in high school. He was a nice young man. I never knew anything
about his talent as a writer. Please say hello for me and wish him continued success. His
TV series is excellent! He will know my name right away. He sends me
invitations to his book signings locally. All the news, Ken Blank. Talk about degrees
of separation. Penn State Lehigh Valley is truly privileged to welcome award-winning
author and lecturer to its 2012 Commencement Brad Meltzer
Exactly twenty years ago, twenty years, almost exactly to the day, when I sat there where
you are now sitting, when I sat there waiting for for graduation and everyone was else smiling
and everyone else was happy. I was miserable, I was mad. Because, you see, in my graduation
there was a competition among graduating seniors, a competition to see which student would give
the commencement address. You better believe I entered and I wrote a brilliant speech and
a stunning speech and the way the rules of the competition worked, in the first round
the speech committee read everyone speeches and then if you got passed that round, you
got to perform your speech but here is what i had in my corner, my friend was actually
on the speech committee. I knew he'd vote me to the next round and then once I got to
perform my speech. Are you hearing my speaking skills? I was gonna win it! Here's what happened,
I lost! And, not only did I lose, I didn't make it past the first round. To this day
I still think about my "so-called friend," the friend who didn't vote for me. The friend
who didn't even let me get to the second round. I won't bore you by naming Steve Edelman.
But, I will tell you as I sat where you now sit, I was bitter. But, let me also tell you
this: I saved that speech and I am still such a bitter, angry, and absolutely petty man,
that I brought that speech here with me today. Now, finally this is true, twenty years later,
twenty years and three days later, I'm going to finally deliver to you, the graduation
speech that I wrote when I was twenty-two years old! Yeah, is right! It is called, and
it's dated, but it is called "Chase Your Dreams, Find Your Road Runner," by Brad Meltzer, age
twenty-two I was raised on cartoons. Every Saturday morning countless hours was spent
enthralled in the adventures of Bugs Bunny wondering the true meaning of life, "Why was
Tweety Bird's head so big?" and "What was Scooby Snacks really made of?" Yet, as we
hurdle towards the real world, the questions we ask ourselves grow more serious. We are
no longer individuals who can sit home and watch television. We are today a generation
of people who are about to make an impact on the world. The media loves to speculate
about what our generation will accomplish. They love to report that our generation, age
eighteen to twenty-five will be the first generation in history who will have less than
our parents. I cannot express how much this annoying little factoid bothers me. I don't
question economic principles upon on which this prediction is based. Rather, I'm concerned
about the consequences of the statement. It is both silly and bothersome to hear anyone
tell us what we will be. The logical flaws alone are staggering. How can they know what
our generation will accomplish when so many of our future leaders are still sitting here,
awaiting graduation? It's as if they are trying to write that widely read year-in-review article
before the year even takes place. They don't know our capability or they simply base their
predictions on the assumptions that our limits are equal to the limits of their generation.
They are wrong! This is our generation and we differ from all others. Certainly there
is some truth to the notion that we will not have the same economic advantages that parents
had; yet, that doesn't mean we will necessarily have less than our parents Let the world know
we will not be counted out! I am confident we will surprise them we have a different
type of knowledge, more street smart and clever. We are imaginative and more ingenious. Creativity
is an elemental force of nature. Use that force in whatever you decide to do. chose
business, teaching, or any of the other limitless doors that are opened to you, show the world
our time has come. We've arrived and will not be easily defeated. As we face graduation,
do not be scared of the future, embrace it. And, let's face it. This is Penn State, you
guys faced a storm this year, right? Do not weather the storm, control it. Make the most
of your time and we will make the best of our generation. For the past two-decades we've
seen Wile E. Coyote chase the ever-elusive roadrunner. For twenty-years we've known he
will never ever catch him, but we still continue to watch. No matter how impossible our dreams
might be, we must all practice the childhood lessons of Wild E. Coyote: Be persistent as
you chase your own dreams, so that you may one day find your roadrunner. And, that was
my speech. For twenty-years I waited to give it. So, let me start by saying, Thank you!
Thank you for giving me the chance. Thank you to Dr. Williams. Thank you to the Advisory
Board of Penn State Lehigh Valley, to the local Penn State Alumni who are in attendance.
Thank you to Congressman Dent, to all the distinguished guests, to all of you graduates,
of course, and especially to your family and friends who have supported you, especially
by being here today. And now, Graduates, let me tell you the real reason why I share my
old college speech with you. One, every warning of failure that they gave your generation,
they gave my generation. And, two, it's because we are not just honoring your graduation;
we're also honoring 100, the 100th Anniversary of Penn State Lehigh Valley. So, for that
reason, I'd like to talk to you about history. Not just any , I'd like to talk to you and
tell history's greatest secret. You know what the greatest secret of history is? It's that
history can be changed. And yea-yea, I know everyone says history can't be changed, but
today we're going to talk about how history isn't just something that goes backwards,
history goes forward, too, all those things that haven't happened yet, That's not just
the future; that's history; that's waiting to be written, So, how do you change history.?
I'm going to tell by walking you through the three things that I say to my kids every night
when I tuck them into bed. I stole the idea from a friend of mine, who told me what his
father used to tell him. So, every night I tuck my kids in, I say these three things,
"Dream big, work hard, Let's look at the first, dream big. You know who have the biggest,
best dreams of all? You, young people. You know how old Martin Luther King Jr. was when
he became the leader of the most famous bus boycott in history? He was twenty-six. You
know how old Amelia Earhart was when she broke the first world record? Twenty-five. You know
how old Steve Jobs was when he co-founded Apple computers? Twenty-one. Do you know how
old Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster were, when they came up with their greatest idea, the
idea of for the world's first superhero, who they called Superman? Seventeen. Two seventeen-year-old
kids came up with the idea of Superman. Jerry and Joe weren't popular at school. They were
just two best friends with one dream. With just their imagination, they gave the entire
world something to believe in. And I know, I know, right? Creating Superman is a big
dream, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime dream. And, it is. So, let me tell you the story
of a girl named, Alexandria Scott; she goes by Alex. Alex was diagnosed with cancer before
she was even a year old and that was the only life she knew. Chemotherapy and sickness and
hospitals. When she was four years-old, she asked her parents she could opened up a lemonade
stand in their front yard. She didn't want to use money for herself, she wanted to give
the money to doctors to help other kids with cancer. Within a single day, Alex's Lemonade
Stand - but here's what I love - suddenly, other Lemonade Stands started opening up,
all with Alex's name on them. Then, she said, "Set a new goal; eventually she said, "Let's
raise a million dollars." On June 12th, 2004, hundreds of lemonade stands opened up in every
state in the country. Ordinary people selling water, and sugar, and lemons to help kids
with cancer. Nearly two months later, Alex died while her parents held her hands. She
was eight years-old. Before she died, Alex set a new goal, five million dollars. To this
day, Alex's Lemonade Stand had raised over forty-five million dollars, and it is still
going strong. One idea, one girl, one big dream. You know what she said? This is the
direct quote from little Alex Scott before she died, "Oh, we can do it. If other people
will help me, I think we can do it. I know we can do it." You dream big, and I don't
care what your age is. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. You will change history.
Which leads me to the second thing I tell my kids, work hard. Such a simple one, right?
So obvious, Work hard. I learned it from my own parents; my mom and dad, who both died
over the past few years. When I was growing up, my family didn't have money. My dad had
to work every weekend, every Saturday, every Sunday. I saw right there what hard work was,
but the hardest work of all is being resilient when you find failure. When I started writing
my first book, I got me twenty-four rejection letters. To be clear, there were twenty publishers.
I got twenty-four rejection letters. That means some people were writing twice to make
sure I got the point. To this day that book still sits on my shelf, published Kinko's.
But, I kept saying, if they don't like that book, I'll write another And, if they don't
like that book, I'll write another. And, the week after I got my twenty-third and twenty-forth
rejection letter, I started my next book, The Tenth Justice. It became my first published
novel. But why did it sell? Let me tell you right now. My editor explained to me if you
want to sell books, they're very different then movies. A movie, you like George Clooney,
you like the preview, you see the George Clooney movie. He said, books are very different.
Think about the last good book you read, it's because someone says to you, you gotta to
read this book. It may be a friend, a teacher, Oprah Winfrey, someone saying, you got to
read it. Books are sold by word And so, he said to me, if you what to sell your book,
Brad, one of two things has has to be true: Either, one, you know a lot of people; or
two, you know a couple people with really big mouths. Now, let me tell you about my
family, okay? My mother, God bless her, when I went up to Borders Books, when Borders was
still around, I went to their headquarters and they said to me, guess where your books
sell more, Brad, more than anywhere else - straight sales, not even per capita? I said, New York
City, eight million New Yorkers in one place? Nope. Washington D.C? See, I write trillers
about D.C. Nope. The number one place where my book sold, was the Boca Raton Florida Borders,
one mile from the furniture store where my mother used to work. That means my mother
single-handedly beat eight million New Yorkers Thank you to every mother here today! Right?
My father, the other half of the equation, used to go into the Barnes and Noble,
to the book store. He'd say, "Yes, I'm here for my favorite author's book, Brad Meltzer,
he's my favorite author. " And they would say, Mr. Meltzer, we know he's your son. We
know. Leave us alone. Please. Stop bothering us! Again, thank you to every father here.
We all know Give them a round of applause; it's your dad. But in our lives, few people
will work as hard for us as our parents. will and our family will. For me it wasn't until
I was writing my ninth book, a book of heros that I was writing for my sons, that I found
my favorite example of working hard through failure. A friend of mine, Simon Cinnek, told
me this amazing story about the Wright Brothers. That every time the Wright Brothers went out
to fly their plane, they would bring enough extra materials for multiple crashes. That
means every time they went they knew they would fail. And they would crash and rebuild,
and crash and rebuild. That's why they took off! I love that story. I wanted my sons to
hear that story. I wanted my daughter to hear that story. I wanted everyone to know that
if you dream big, and you work hard, and you keep stubbornly going, even in the face of
failure, you can change history and do what no one on this planet has ever done before.
And, that leads me to the final thing that I tell them, Stay humble. To be clear, if
you invent the world's first airplane, or Superman, or you create a multimillion dollar
lemonade, you don't need to be humble. You don't. You can wear a big fat tattoo across
your face that says, "I'm the best." But pay attention here; No one likes a jerk. In fact,
the world needs fewer loudmouths, so stay humble. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration
of Independence, you know he never took credit for writing it while he was alive. The average
American didn't find out that he was the author until after he died and it was in his obituary.
And you know what else is humble? Recognizing and acknowledging the people who got you there.
When I was in ninth grade, my English teacher, Miss Sheila Spicer, was the first person who
told me I could write. She said, You can write. I thought everyone can write. She said, "No,
no you can write; you know what you are doing here. She tried to put me in the honor's class,
but I had a conflict. She couldn't change the class. So, she said to me, you are going
to stay in this classroom and sit in the corner the entire year. Ignore everything that I
am doing at the blackboard ignore every homework assignment I give. What she was really saying
to me was You are going to do all the honor's work here. You're going to thank me later.
Sure enough, a decade later, I went back to my junior high school classroom. I knocked
on the door. She said, can I help you? She didn't know who I was. Last time she saw me,
I had a full head of hair. I said, my name is Brad Meltzer. I wrote this book and it's
for you. And she started crying. I said, why are you crying? She said, you know I've been
working so long here because I didn't think I was having an impact anymore. I said, are
you kidding me? You have thirty students we have one teacher. Looking back, Miss Spicer
was the first person who ever told me that I could write. Right now, I want to think
of the first person who told you that you were good at something. Think of someone who
helped you during your life, and I want you to thank them. That's my goal. That's all
I ask of you today. When you leave here when I stop talking, email them, text them, find
them on Facebook; track them down. But, find them and say, Thank you! Last summer I heard
that my English teacher, Miss Spicer, was finally retiring. She kept teaching thirteen
more years after I went to see her that day. You better believe I was at that retirement
party. That woman changed my life. She was a giant in my life. She deserved my "thank
you." And, in that "thank you," I became a giant in hers. You all have that power. Go
say, "Thank You." You will never believe what will grow from it. That's the power of being
humble. There's the grand secret, Dream Big, Work Hard, Stay Humble. Wait, you're saying.
That's it? You tell me a bunch of stories and now, what? How do you change history?
Here's the answer. All history every is, is a bunch of stories - conflicting stories,
big stories, little stories, our stories. So, how do you change history? You simply
write your story. And, that leads me to the most important thing that I will say here
today, "YOU WILL CHANGE HISTORY." Some of you will change history in big ways, affecting
millions of people. Others will do it in a more personal way, helping a family member
who is sick. or sticking up for someone who needs it. Let me be clear, one is not better
than the other. Whether you help people en mass or one-by-one, That's how history gets
written, when you take action. But, when you are writing history and you start getting
scared, as we all inevitably do, know one thing: No one is born a hero. Every person
I told you about today, whether they were a twenty-six-year-old preacher, seventeen-year-old
nerds, or a little girl, who was dying of cancer, they all had moments where they worried
about school, and friendships, and would the be accepted by others, like you, like me.
They worried and doubted themselves, like you and like me. They worried about failure
and loneliness and would they ever succeed, like you and like me. Those stories I told
you weren't the stories of famous people. They're what we're all capeable of on our
very best days. And, the best part is, you don't have to start a multi-million dollar
lemonade stand, or fly the world's first airplane to change the world. You help one person...be
kind to one person. That is the answer. It is my core belief. It is in every story I
just told you. I believe ordinary people change the world. I don't care how young you are,
how old you are I don't care how much money you make, that is nonsense to me. I believe
in regular people and their ability to affect change in this world. I believe in my mother
and my father and a twenty-five-year-old, named Amelia Earhardt, and an eight-year-old
girl who sells lemonade like nobody's business. It's why I believe in the first hero that
we talked about today, Superman. To me the most important part of the story is not Superman;
the most important part of the story is Clark Kent. You want to know why? Because we are
all Clark Kent. We all know what it is like to be boring and ordinary and wish we can
do something incredible beyond ourselves. Here's the real news - we all can do something
incredible beyond ourselves. I've got twenty-four rejection letters on my first book. Twenty-four
people who told me to give it up. I look back on the experience and say, I was right and
they were wrong. Ha-ha on them! What I look back and realize is that every single one
of those rejection letters made me work harder, and dream bigger, and you better believe it,
made me more humble. But, it also made me want it more than ever. So what ever it is
that you dream big about. Whatever it is you work hard for, don't let anyone tell you tell
you are too young. Don't tell anyone tell you No. Every life makes history. Every life
is a story, so get your pens ready and write us something spectacular! Thank you very much.
something spectacular! Thank you very much. We had the pleasure, last night
, of having dinner with Brad. He speaks equally as well off-the-cuff as he did today. Most
of us have our little booklets that have the Penn State insignia on the front.
Could you show them yours? It says, "The Best Speech of All Times!" And, I think
it was!