Woodmont High School Commencement Keynote 2015

29 Jun
Woodmont High School Commencement Keynote 2015

June 2015 – I was chosen by Woodmont High School‘s Student Government to deliver the graduation commencement speech to the 2015 graduating class.  I am a public speaker and auctioneer, so I am usually calm when speaking in front on audiences… I am paid to be the calmest person in the room.  This was a little different because I was speaking to a graduating class and their parents and relatives.  I had to make each word count.

Here is the speech – in it’s entirety.  There are points in the speech for my reference… places to pause, point, laugh, etcetera.  I made sure to put these in so I could break my normal serious tone.  Enjoy…

The Journey Begins with You…

Mr Imperati, Dr Peake, members of the faculty, family, friends and most importantly…

Congratulations on your achievement!

This is your night and we are all here to celebrate you!

Before I begin… you have parents and guardians that have coddled you, fed you, wiped your nose, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, coached you, held you, encouraged you… sacrificed time and again to get you here…

Keep your seats, but take a moment to give them a round of applause…

Parents and guardians…

Feel free to take as many selfies with me in the background as you want because it’s all about them for the next 20-30 minutes!

(Point to graduates and laugh)

I’m kidding… I’ll be brief… But, with the selfies – make sure I am in focus and tagged correctly online!

(HUGE GRIN) “Follow me and I’ll follow back!”

Each year, the Student Council chooses an alumnus to speak to the graduating class… someone who graduated from Woodmont and has gone on to do great things… lead armies… cure diseases… win major awards…

Well, he wasn’t available… so you’ve got me!


You’ve heard magna cum laude and summa cum laude…

When I graduated in 1990, all you heard was ‘Oh Lawdy’


It’s been almost 25 years to the day since I graduated from Woodmont High School. That was back in the olden days of the school… in the old building… with teachers like Abrams, Candler, Snipes, McCuen and some guy named Alan Russell.


I remember a lot of things about that day.

I remember sitting in the Memorial Auditorium sweating my tail off making sure I didn’t get the line out of alphabetical order…

I remember that I was stoked because I was leaving for Senior Week the next day…

I was heading to college in the fall… and my future was set!


But times changed… the future did not roll on as planned and my college life was “one and done”. Fraternity life and the grading policy of Francis Marion College didn’t gel and we parted ways after only one year.

I failed.

I took a job after college to make ends meet and moved back home to live with my dad.

I failed.

I was floundering around blaming the world… I had failed myself… I had failed my family…

I had failed my so-called friends – not that they cared… because they were right there with me!

Here’s a hint: Everybody that’s riding with you isn’t riding FOR you. Let the gas run out and see who helps you push!

After a few years of being sick and tired of being sick and tired, I realized that the potential was inside of me but I was too busy blaming everyone else for my shortcomings…

I want you to know that you have people all around you that are truly pulling for you…

I am one of them.

I would not have accepted this opportunity to speak to you if I was not rallying right behind each and every one of you!


In the short amount of time I have tonight I’d like to share a few points of success… these points have never failed me… I just had to find them and begin using them!

These are points to think about, quickly forget but years from now kick yourself for not having listened to!

Before I begin, I want to tell you the core secret of my success – small prayers throughout the day to God. He and I have small 3-4 sentence conversations at various times throughout the day…

All of my success I owe to God.

Today, I hold three college degrees…

Even though I have shared the stage with celebrities and raised money for lots of important causes, I feel tonight’s opportunity to speak to you is one of my highest honors… and I thank you for that!

On to the points…

Parents… I’ll warn you… go ahead and tune out – you may not like some of what I am going to say!

Graduates… Point #1… TRUST YOURSELF

You are getting so much advice from parents, teachers and friends…

Even old guys like me…

There is way too much distortion to filter through…

You have to dig down deep and decide WHO you want to be – not WHAT – but WHO.

Figure out what makes YOU happy… not your parents or friends… listen to your heart…

And do not let other people cloud the process.

One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin, talks about this notion called The Resistance – The resistance is the voice in the back of our heads telling us to back off… to be careful… to go slow… to compromise.

We spend so much time letting The Resistance take over that we lose sight about WHO we want to be.

I’ve heard the Resistance… It sounds like this…

“No, I am not good enough”. (pause)

“No… they won’t like me”. (pause)

“They would never hire me.” (pause)

“I am too young.” (pause)

Even when I was about to make a decision… prepared and ready… the naysayers joined The Resistance and helped beat down the idea.

These naysayers are never happy…

…they are the ones Bob Marley talked about when he said,

“some people feel the rain… others just get wet.”

DON’T LISTEN TO THE NAYSAYERS… that’s my 2nd point

I found a quote on Instagram that fits them…

I used to care what people thought about me, until one day, I tried to pay my bills with their opinions


You have to turn away from the people that say, “it can’t be done” or “no, I don’t think it will work” or “why are THEY doing THAT?”

They are wasting your time because they are afraid to make a move.

What if Steve Jobs had stopped when they told him the Macintosh was not feasible? What if he stopped designing the iPod when the world was hooked on CDs?

Your generation has SO many advantages mine didn’t… Millennials make up the second largest population group in the United States and you literally have the world at your fingertips.

(show typing thumbs)

But you are going to run into people who are afraid to make the next move… the ones that are afraid of making the wrong choice… the ones who are afraid of stepping outside the box…

I’m telling you now… step outside of that box and stomp it to pieces!


That leads to the next point…

Don’t. Be. Afraid. To. Fail.

People are so cautious because they never experience life… they never experience life because they are afraid to fail. Fear creeps in.

Get this… fear is normal… it keeps you alive. But it should not rule your life!

Go back to my first point… dig down deep and figure out who YOU want to be. You can’t let friends and family dictate your every move…

If I was afraid to fail, do you think I would be standing up here tonight?

Public speaking is the #1 fear in America… right in front of death (most people don’t like either)

I do this for a living and I have stressed more over this talk than any other I have put together… that’s life… suck it up and make it happen!

See if you recognize these famous failures…

  1. A guy was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas”. (Walt Disney)
  2. A man was a high school dropout whose personal struggles with drugs and poverty led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. (Eminem)

These two didn’t let life keep them down… they took the punch, got up, dusted off and made it happen!

I have a poster in my office that says:

Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

You cannot let fear of failure paralyze your decision-making. In this world, the ones that can make decisions are the ones that are rewarded the most.

So… the next point…

BREAK SOME RULES… not laws, mind you… rules.

Take some chances and live your life!

I love Steve Jobs’ quote: Here’s to the crazy ones… the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones that see things differently. THEY ARE NOT FOND OF RULES… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is IGNORE them. Because they change things.

What is the point to being here if all you want to do is be liked by everybody and avoid trouble? You cannot be an original if you are afraid to break a rule or two.

Do you REALLY think the faculty sitting here tonight never broke rules?


I remember when I was starting my fundraising company… The naysayers constantly told me that I couldn’t get paid for fundraising and consulting. It was not the norm… people didn’t do it.

Those were their rules… not mine.

I was convinced that if I put my heart and soul into it and learned everything I could about the business, the rules could be rewritten.

And they were…

Which leads me to my last point…

You have to WORK YOUR A… (sorry, I got carried away)

You have to work your butt off.

Edison said – opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Don’t be afraid of hard work… while you are out partying, sleeping late, messing around and wasting time someone else is hard at work and PASSING YOU BY.

I cannot stress this point enough!

Leave no stone unturned and when you feel you have done enough… THAT is your starting point. That is the point where the sweat beads on your forehead…

That is the point where your muscles ache and your head starts to throb.

So… why am I telling you this?

The world has already labeled your generation…

Yep – the NINJA generation… no income, no jobs, no assets.

You’re the hands-off generation because you are dependent on technology to make things happen for you.

People say you are being dumbed down by not having to lift a finger for anything.

Is this WHAT you want to be remembered for?

Is this WHO you want to be?

Absolutely not… you have just finished 12 years of education to get you here tonight.

But guess what…


Like it or not, life starts over tomorrow when you step foot outside as a graduate of Woodmont High School.

Whether you go to work, college, military or whatever… you are starting at zero.

Remember when your parents used to tell you you were one in a million… well, today that means there are 319 like you in the United States, 1252 in India and 1357 in China.

You are NOT special… your one in a million in the US could fill about the same number of seats your class is using tonight. Think about it… 319 YOUs

I think I just heard a parent feint in the stands!

That means that you have to fight for everything!

That means it is time to chart your own path…

That means tomorrow you take charge and find a way out of this NINJA definition and represent your school, your community, your family and YOURSELF!


I leave you tonight with a note that has been a driving force for me… it is from a poem by Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.


Woodmont High School class of 2015…

I leave you with this final point:

Carpe freakin’ diem… Go out and make it happen!


Thank you for reading… Feel free to leave comments by clicking the ‘Leave a comment’ link!

Darron Meares, MBA, CAI, MPPA, BAS
Founder – Meares and Associates, LLC

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Posted by on June 29, 2015 in Motivation, Writing


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