LOS ANGELES — Sixteen years ago, I and 198 of my Thornton Academy classmates did what thousands upon thousands of half-wits do every year: graduate high school. It rained all morning in Saco, Maine on that first Sunday in June but had basically cleared up by the time the scheduled 1pm start rolled around, however the decision to hold the ceremony indoors at Lynnell Gymnasium had already been made. Disappointed, and because I was such a big deal, I tried to talk our Headmaster and Assistant out of it with my go-to line of, “you can’t do this to me;” – it didn’t work. Even at 17, I thought I had Tywin Lannister’s heavy hand of influence.
Inside the gym where I became a local schoolboy hoops legend (in my own mind) it was rainforest damp, and while the nearly one thousand friends and family in attendance were packed in like Black Friday Wal-Mart shoppers, the festivities went off without a hitch. All I recall about our valedictorian Matthew McGinnis’ speech is that he wore a “Star Wars” pin or ribbon on his gown, and student speaker Jason Grantham did a bit that included a Webster’s definition of a word that’s now slipped my mind. I recollect a few other small details about that day: my cousin, Bridget, from Colorado, made an unexpected visit that week and joined us; I knew the first and last name of everyone I graduated with as we went down annual the Hug Line, despite not having regular interaction with probably half of them; our gowns were more fuchsia and purple than maroon; and we had dinner at the Olive Garden (hey, it’s Maine).
The one thing I can’t recall is who the other keynote speaker was on that day. Usually it’s a faculty member but the identity of this mystery person escapes me, to much frustration. I’m fascinated by speeches. Their tempo, content, and tone all intrigue me. Rudy Giuliani spoke at my college graduation and I can’t tell you a thing he said but it was heavy on 9/11. Billy Joel orated at my brother’s four years later and went on and on about doing what you love and loving what you do before forgetting what he was saying and busting out a song number. (He was probably inebriated.) Regardless, I figured it was my time to throw my hat in the graduation speech ring.
So, despite not being asked for the 16th consecutive year, I’m going to print below the speech I would’ve given this coming Sunday, June 8 to the 304th graduating class of the great Thornton Academy.
Greetings, friends and fellow Golden Trojans. It’s an honor to be speaking before you. I can remember sitting where you are some time ago and feeling both nerves at the upcoming next chapter of my life and relief that this part of my book is over.
Before I get started, if any of you out there have your phones on you and feel like live-tweeting my speech, have at it, just use the hashtag #BrockmanTAGradSpeech. I doubt I’ll do anything too crazy that’ll end up going viral, but you never know. Plus, I wanna be able to go back and see who exactly talked shit about my speech. Totally kidding. Sort of.
OK, graduates, congratulations on making it this far. I know it wasn’t easy. I don’t mean that facetiously either. Actually go ahead and give yourselves a hand … [starts clapping … raucous applause ensues] … Good, yeah, that was great. Now don’t get me wrong, being young is awesome, good job by you guys, but I would never want to be a kid these days. Never. Y’all got too much going on. I could never keep up. I can’t even read everything in my Twitter timeline. And while your unknown futures are exciting, your upcoming adventures filled with mystery and intrigue, I’m happy to let you live them and critique your mistakes on my blog from the cheap seats. The very cheap seats.
Now, while I could write a book about the things 33-year old me would tell a 17- and 18-year old me … actually, that’s a good idea, hold on a second … [pulls out iPhone … “Hey, Siri, yeah, no, I’m good, thanks for asking. Look, got a good idea for a book here … Things I would tell 17-year old me … oh, that’s sweet of you to say, glad you like it too … Remind me start working on this when I get back to LA tomorrow. Thanks. Love you, Siri.” … puts iPhone back in pocket] …
Sorry about that. So yeah, I would never want to be a kid these days. The pressure on you to be successful is immense, not to mention the rising cost of college tuition in an uncertain future job market, growing national debt and global warming, that type of crap. But with technological advances becoming what they are, you’ve also been robbed of so many of life’s simple pleasures. For example: sending and opening an actual hand-written letter from someone … when was the last time any of you did this with a classmate or even had a pen pal? When I was a kind I had pen pals. Now you just blindly text shorthand to one another or someone you meet online … How ’bout this: because of the easy access to internet porn, you’ll never know what’s it like to watch the scrambled XXX channel hoping to see an unfiltered nipple and the joy that ensues from that moment. It really was glorious; now you just SnapChat dick and boob pics to each other, probably in class!; … and finally, you’ll never know what it’s like to be so lost on a road trip that you have no choice but to ask the hillbilly-looking dude behind the counter at the barely functional gas station in the middle of the woods for directions back to the highway, and feel the stress of not knowing whether or not you might be reenacting a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre; now there’s Google Maps on your phone for that.
It’s cool, though, you’ll have new, more badass experiences and someday you’ll be in my shoes reminiscing about these simpler times. And so here I am, where past speakers, I know, have stood on similar gorgeous spring days here in Sunny Saco … by the way, how awesome is this stadium? Quick straw poll: Raise your hand if some of your favorite memories as a Thornton Academy student have taken place right here on the turf of Hill Stadium? [raises own hand] … my hand is raised … yeah, I’m right there with you guys … so awesome … So past speakers have come up here and given generic speeches that have included famous quotes and cliches, some got slightly original and rattled off Top 10 lists. I know others have sung with a guitar and played songs over the loud speaker, and even dressed up.
I’m not going to do any of those things. No, I’m not. What I am going to do is name drop. Because if I’ve learned anything living in Los Angeles the last five years it’s that this generation, your generation, loves celebrity news and taking what these chemically-enhanced narcissists say as gospel.
Before I do that, however, I’m going to post a selfie on Instagram. Who wants to be in my selfie? … [runs into front row and gathers as many kids as humanly possible for a graduation selfie … walks back to podium and posts picture] … OK, I’m sure you all have your phones on you right now, so retweet and like that bitch. @ChrisBrockman. Get on it.
Now, my job as a sports television and podcast producer has given me the opportunity to rub elbows with some of Hollywood’s more accomplished members. I’ve listened to stories and even asked a question or two, so I’ve heard tales I would have otherwise not been privy to. I’ve walked Red Carpets, and been to movie and TV premieres, and even had a cameo on a cable sitcom. I even got high with Snoop Dogg once … well, I didn’t actually smoke with him, but when we shook hands the contact high was so strong I felt like I was floating, so I imagine that’s what smoking with Snoop Dogg would be like … Such, I think I’ve gained a little perspective and peeked a tad behind the curtain of this celebrity world and have a sense of what it takes to be successful in their business. The lessons behind these stories are applicable for all professions, whether you want to be a teacher or doctor, lawyer or retail store manager. So from those conversations I want to share some of what I’ve learned.
From acclaimed film director Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup,” among other hits … he said you have to change the energy in the room. Shelton was telling a story about how Susan Sarandon came to him and other studio executives to audition for a key role in “Bull Durham,” and when she walked into the room the energy shifted. She controlled everything about that meeting from the get-go and it was all because she came in confident, looked smashing yet professional, and in turn she got the part which helped rejuvenate her career.
I sat four feet away from Academy Award winner Kevin Costner as he told a story about one afternoon when he was on his way leaving the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. A young woman was screaming his name as he walked to his car. He was well ahead of her and tried to play it off like he didn’t hear her shouting, “Mr. Costner! Mr. Costner!” He kept walking towards as if she was a bird singing in the trees, but she didn’t relent. “Mr. Costner! Mr. Costner!’ Until finally, he stopped and turned around and asked her how he could help her. See, “Dances With Wolves” had just been released and was being recognized as this great cinematic achievement and if you haven’t seen it, there’s this scene where Kevin and his wife in the film are reunited and they share this epic kiss. A real movie kiss. You know what those are, right? Where you just… uh! … go for it, and you leave it all out there and roll around in the dirt and don’t care because she’s your woman and you’re her man and your love is one that cannot be contained by rational measures… so this young woman tells Costner that her husband is a soldier overseas and he’s been missing and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see him again, and all she thinks about is that scene because she dreams of the day when he’ll return and she can have that movie scene kiss and reunion with him… and Costner is floored. And he gets her information and has the actual film from that scene clipped off and framed and sent to her as a gift as a reminder to never give up hope. And from that I learned that sometimes you need to stop and listen to people you aren’t familiar, and maybe you don’t want to listen to, because you never know if what they might say could change your life. And clearly Coster’s life was changed at that moment because nearly 25 years later he remembers every last detail of that story.
Jerry Ferrara … you may know him as Turtle from “Entourage” … he’s become a regular on our show and from our conversations with him you can feel his ambition and drive as a kid from a small neighborhood in Brooklyn. A kid with big dreams who struggled for a long while, like most do who move to Los Angeles to become actors, before getting the break of a lifetime on one of the trend-setting shows of the last decade. Now he’s starring in Kevin Hart movies and owns a chain of sandwich shops in Southern California. And every time we talk I think about his journey and how he’s always thinking about his goals for tomorrow, remembering and honoring the past, all the while being completely present in the moment which he’s living. Keep your future in mind, respect your past, but always be present in the now because what you do now affects tomorrow and becomes your past.
Here’s a bigger name for you … Billy Bob Thornton … how many out there are watching “Fargo?” Intense ass show, right? So Billy Bob came in a few years ago and was wearing the most ridiculous pair of snakeskin cowboy boots I’ve ever seen. Right off a movie set probably. So when he sat down and I was checking the cameras, I told him, “good thing I didn’t wear my boots today, that would’ve been pretty embarrassing for you,” like a wiseass. Seriously, who did I think I was talking to Billy Bob Thornton like that? But lucky for me he laughed or else that would’ve been a mighty uncomfortable interview … so anyway, he’s telling us about this small independent film he was working on and what he was in to promote, a film he wrote and directed, and after the interview was over, off camera, he told us that to get films like that made he had to say “yes” to bigger, commercial films he wouldn’t normally have any interest in like “Armageddon.” One for them, one for him. Saying “yes” to things you normally wouldn’t do or have interest in doing is important, it takes out of your comfort zone and expands your senses and skills in all arenas. Don’t take it to extremes like Jim Carrey in that terrible movie “Yes Man,” you remember that? But allow yourself to step outside your skin from time to time and try something new. It was very LA of me, but I dated an actress once who was into vegan food and all that healthy LA bullshit and every time we’d go someplace new I’d look at the menu and not understand what was on it, and I’d say to her, “what am I supposed to order here?” That was really outside my northeast eating habits but it made me think about what I ate and how I consumed specific foods and in the last 5 years since I’ve moved there from Maine, I’ve lost 30 pounds and more importantly, kept it off. So say YES and expand your horizons.
Finally, hop hop legend Nas came in and told of his life growing up in the rap game in New York, and how he had to overcome the bevy of obstacles in his way to become one of the most successful artists of his generation. He also had a funny story about playing street football with his friends. He had wanted to play pro football but one of this boys, this kid named Mo Rooney, hit him so hard up against a parked car, and knocked him out. He then realized he would never have the size or strength to make it as an NFLer, so he turned his efforts 100-percent to music and the rest, as they say, is history. The lesson I took away from his tales was simple: no matter the circumstances, always believe in yourself and you will survive … no matter how bleak things look, tomorrow the sun will come up and you get a fresh start to make it how you wish.
And if any of this advice didn’t resonate, you could always do what Sports Illustrated model Chrissy Teigen told me, and that’s get yourself cast in a music video and seduce the artist until he becomes your husband.
The future is yours, new graduates, and whether you choose to extend your education immediately or become a sucker like the rest of us and join the work force, go forth and strive for greatness. But remember, your happiness in this world isn’t guaranteed, just your pursuit of it is. And I have no doubt you’ll post all the details for the world to see on some social media app that hasn’t even been invented yet.
Lastly, lemme pull out my phone real quick and see what you guys had to say about the speech … [scrolls Twitter] … OK, nothing too bad. You’ll be all right in this world after all.
[raucous applause … followed by standing ovation and me posing for pictures and signing autographs as I walk off stage …]