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WGU Commencement Address from Bill Stainton
WGU Commencement Address from Bill Stainton
Western Governors University
<p>Bill Stainton, multiple Emmy Award-winning TV producer, writer and performer, author, and business humorist; addresses graduates at April 2018's WGU Regional Commencement. This regional commencement was held in Seattle, Washington.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>Bill Stainton: Do you like sitting next to weird people? [Laughter] I don’t like sitting next to weird people. I think that’s true for most of us. Don't you think so? I mean, be honest, how many of you wish you could change seats right now? [Laughter]</p> <p>Here’s the problem with that. It turns out that weird people, are almost never truly weird, they’re just different. And when we avoid people who are different, experiences that are different, ideas that are different, we’re just cheating ourselves. We're cheating ourselves of opportunities to learn and grow. And that’s not what being a WGU grad is all about, is it? Still, it’s easy to fall into the trap.</p> <p>A few years ago I was flying home to Seattle from New York. Okay. I had an aisle seat. And in the middle seat was nobody. [Gasps] I know, right? So I’m doing my little internal happy dance, when just before the doors close one last passenger gets on the plane. </p> <p>She was different. I don’t know what Methuselah’s grandmother actually looked like, but this had to be close. [Laughter] And she’s shuffling down the aisle. I’m looking around thinking, "Come on, Bill, don’t panic. It’s a big plane. I mean, what are the odds?" I’ll tell you what the odds were, 100 percent. [Laughter]</p> <p>She stopped right beside me, pokes me with her bony finger, points to my empty seat, and says, "Please, I am there?" Sad dance. So I did what most of you might have done. I put on my headphones. I put on my headphones and I escaped into my music. Music. Music has always been my escape. </p> <p>Whether I’m playing drums at a blues club or Chopin on my piano at home, music always been about music. And so for the next five hours, I escape. Beatles, Beethoven, Miles Davis. And then, because I had just finished a biography of one of my musical heroes, Stravinsky, I cap it off by listening to his magnificent "Firebird Suite". Beautiful piece of music. It should have been playing now, but it's not. [Laughter] But just imagine it. </p> <p>As the plane descends into Seattle, middle seat pokes me once again. Apparently, it’s time for the obligatory final descent conversation. You know the one I'm talking about? "Is home for you?" "I'm sorry. What?" "Is home for you?" "Oh, Seattle? Yes, it is. Yes. How about you?" "No, I have long way to go. I go to Russia." "Yes, that is a long way." "Da, I have not been there since I was young woman. I was teacher." "What did you teach?" "Music." "Did you teach Russian music?" "Of course." "Okay, now, see, that’s amazing, because I was just listening -- I mean, like just now to Stravinsky’s 'Firebird Suite'." "Oh, Stravinsky, the 'Firebird'. I was with him when he wrote it."[Laughter][Gasps]</p> <p>And then the plane pulled up to the gate and I never saw her again. I had just flown across the continent, separated by only five inches and a pair of headphones, from possibly the most fascinating person I would ever meet. And I didn’t know it until the last five minutes. I had completely written her off, for five hours, because she was different. </p> <p>It’s easy to fall into the trap. And when we do that, we're only limiting your own growth. And that’s not who you are. You know why I know that? Because you’re here. People who aren’t interested in growth and learning, do not become graduates of Western Governors University. </p> <p>When you made the decision to become part of the WGU family, you changed the trajectory of your life. I mean, you changed everything. First of all, you became night owls, whether you wanted to or not. [Laughter] That was forced on you. You learned valuable skills, like Task Stream stalking, right? Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Number 487? Come on. Refresh. Refresh. Number 509. How does that happen? [Laughter] That’s going to be your nightmare forever, by the way. That's yours. You own that now. [Laughter] </p> <p>Now that you’re graduating and can finally emerge from the demanding university workload, many of you will be surprised to discover that you actually have significant others. [Laughter] Maybe even a spouse. This is the time to relearn things about them, like their name. [Laughter] So much to learn. </p> <p>I got my pilot's license in 1984. And when the flight examiner certified me as a private pilot, he said something that’s always stuck with me. As he handed me my brand-new pilot's license he said to me, "This is a license to learn?" And that’s what your brand-new WGU degree is. It’s a license to learn. Yes, it’s a milestone. A big one. One that needs to celebrated, absolutely. But it’s not the end of the journey. It’s a license to learn. And that learning means being open to different people, different experiences, different ideas. </p> <p>So you heard that I used to be a TV producer here in Seattle. So I want to take you back with me. January 10th, 1987. It’s a Saturday, it’s show night for us at Almost Live here in Seattle. And we are pumped. We are pumped. Because we’ve got a genuine big-name star to be a guest on the show that night. Our guest this night is this guy. [Photo of Johnny Depp] Johnny Depp. Okay now in fairness, he did not look like that then. [Laughter]</p> <p>Did any of you, I don't know, maybe in your teens and 20s ever go through that awkward stage? Well, Johnny was going through his awkward stage, too. [Music plays] That was the music we should have heard earlier, but there we go. [Laughter] Johnny's awkward stage. [photo of Johnny Depp] I know. [Laughter] I mean, you guys in the audience, you men, can you imagine having to go through your teens and 20s looking like that? [Laughter]</p> <p>Well, Johnny was shooting a TV series just up the street in Vancouver, BC called 21 Jump Street, and we got him. Happy dance. Until the morning of the show, my phone rings. "Bill, it’s Johnny Depp. Yeah, listen I’m not going to be able to make it tonight. No, they scheduled reshoots for Jump Street. I can’t get out of it. I’m really sorry, but I have to cancel." And the next slide. String of bad words! [Photo of a train wreck] There we go. String of bad words. [Laughter] </p> <p>And now, we’re in a panic. I called an emergency meeting, and we try and come up with a guest for tonight’s show. "What about one of them Seahawks?" "No, they’re out of town?" "How about that cute new anchor at COMO TV?" "No, she’s in rehab?" Ugh. She was. [Laughter] And then she got fired. </p> <p>And on and on it goes. And it's starting to look desperate, when all of the sudden one of my writers, in fact, my lowest paid writer, pops his head up and says, "Uh, I might be able to do something with liquid nitrogen." [Laughter] Clearly, he did not understand the situation. [Laughter] I mean, we’re looking for a guest for the show and he’s babbling on about liquid nitrogen. By the way, this was my lowest paid writer. [Photo of Bill Nye] [Laughter] His name was Bill. </p> <p>Well, naturally, my first reaction to Bill’s suggestion was, "Shut up, Bill, you’re scaring us all?" [Laughter] Not my finest moment. But why was that my first reaction? It's because I was wearing blinders. I wasn’t open to something different. But then Bill started painting a verbal picture for us. "Hey, guys, no, this could work out. I mean, liquid nitrogen, it’s very cold. You take an onion, throw it in the liquid nitrogen, take a pair of tongs, pull the onion out, hit it with a hammer, it shatters like glass?" "Ahh, cool." [Laughter] </p> <p>"No, guys, it gets better. You take a marshmallow, throw that in the liquid nitrogen, I take those tongs pull the marshmallow out, pop it in my mouth, bite down, smoke pours out of my nose and mouth." [Photo of Bill Nye] Cool. And that night, this happened. [Video of Bill Nye with the marshmallow]</p> <p>And it was then that this guy became this guy. [Photo of Bill Nye the Science Guy] [Applause and cheers] Who now hangs out with these guys. [Photo of Bill Nye, President Barrack Obama, and Neil deGrasse Tyson] [Applause]</p> <p>Why? Because he was different from us. We were all writers and producers. Bill Nye was, and is, a science guy. When Bill Nye the Science Guy got his own TV show he taped a list of objectives to the wall of his studio. Do you know what objective number one was? "Change the world." The power of different people, different experiences, different ideas, is the power to change the world.</p> <p>So, congratulations, night owls, you did it. You made the hard choice, you made the brave choice, and you saw it through. You’ve proven your commitment to education. So take the blinders off. Put the headphones away. Be open to the new, the different, and, yes, even the weird, because the journey’s not over. Your diploma is a license to learn. It’s a license to grow. It’s a license to change the world. Thanks very much. [Applause]</p>
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