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WGU Commencement Address from Sekou Andrews, September 2019
WGU Commencement Address from Sekou Andrews, September 2019
Western Governors University
<p>WGU Commencement in Seattle, Washington on September 7, 2019. Poetic Voice Sekou Andrews delivered the WGU Commencement Address. This is a video from the master's ceremony.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>Tonya Drake: It is my honor to introduce our fantastic keynote speaker. Please help me welcome Sekou Andrews. [applause] A week in the life of Sekou Andrews could find him keynoting at leadership conference, or possibly helping some global branding with his messaging, or performing at former Barack Obama in Oprah Winfrey's backyard. Or say at T Mobile Park doing a keynote for WGU, yes. [Cheers] More importantly, right? </p> <p>This schoolteacher turned national poet slam champion has become the world's leading poetic voice. A new type of speaker and artist who blends inspirational speaking with spoken word poetry to electrify the messages of global organizations including Google, Toyota, Nike, and PayPal. Sekou also trains speakers to unlock their own stage might using rock star performance techniques. He does more than inspire us with his story, he inspires us with our story. Please give it up for Sekou Andrews. [Applause]</p> <p>[Upbeat music]</p> <p>Sekou Andrews: This is how WGU gets down, huh? I like it, I like it. All right. All right. Let's get this party started. I think this is the official traditional place that you're supposed to stand as the commencement speaker, right? The official, traditional place. So let me look. And let me let you know that if you came here looking for a "your whole life is ahead of you," speech; if you were getting ready to hear a "the world is yours for the taking," or a "the world is waiting for you to begin," speech, then you have come to the wrong place. Yeah, you might as well check Facebook or play Fortnite or go to the bathroom or something, because this speech is not for you. </p> <p>No, this is not a "the world is yours for the taking" speech. This is a, "you have not only already taken the world, you purchased the deed on it, put a mortgage on it, raised a couple kids in it, put a ring on it, and paid the taxes on it!" [Cheers] Please! You've already taken the world by storm so this here degree is simply your proof of purchase. Call it your "Masters receipt." [Cheers] This faculty and staff and family and friends and graduates, is not a "you are young, talented and facing your truth" speech. This is a "you are grown, grinded and got stuff to do" type of speech, huh? A, "you are already in hot pursuit" speech. A, "you finally got no excuse," speech.</p> <p>'Cause we are all full of excuses until we find something that works, right? It's true. Like we keep saying, "Oh, I would totally lose 20 pounds if I could just workout from home," until we meet a trainer who says, "Fine, I'll meet you at your place, 6 a.m., be dressed!" "6 a.m., really, 6?" Or we love repeating. "I would totally save more money, you know, if I wasn't so in debt." Until a credit counselor helps us live off less like a game of rock credit card scissors, right? [Laughter] </p> <p>Eventually something comes along that removes all of our excuses like "I would totally get my degree if I could set my own hours." Boom, here's Taskstream, log in, huh? "I would totally finish school if there was a way to do it from home." Boom, here's a project you can do in your pajamas, log in. "And if I could take classes at night." Coffee it up, log in. "And if I could finish in 18 months." Start your clock now, log in. "And if I got competency units from my job." You work it, we count it. Now log in and start the run and do not stop until the goal is won! [Cheers and applause] </p> <p>I'm not here for the tradition, as neither are you. So this is not a, "I'm here thanks to academic advisors, and professors and graders." No, this is, "I'm here thanks to tech support" [laughter] "course instructors, and evaluators. Thanks to my program mentor who was at my side until the end!" [Cheers] And even when she calls and I'm not quite ready, so to voicemail I send, [laughter] she calls again to help me create my version of the word "win." Which is why this speech is not a "you have spent the past four years dutifully striving each semester toward your degree" speech. No, this is a "I don't even know what a semester is?" speech. This is a "I earned this degree in half the time with double the course load, and twice the GPA at half the cost" speech. [Cheers and applause] </p> <p>This is a, "the world had the nerve to try to tell you what it knows you cannot do, and you looked back at the world all confused, and all that came out was, psshhh, who?" [Chuckles] You all didn't know I speak a little night owl did ya? See, we all know the sound that most species of owl make, right? "Whoo whoo." Yeah, nah, nah, nay. The sound that WGU night owls make is "psshhh who?" [Laughter] As in, when you stand, face pressed against the dark of night, and looking at the end of that tunnel, and the world says, "You know it's statistically unlikely with your maturity, and your responsibilities that you will ever find your way through this darkness to a degree." The night owl says, "psshhh, who?" [Laughter] I know you're not talking about me, because the fire in me has burned bright enough to light my path through raising four kids, or surviving three hurricanes, or serving two tours, and enjoying one heaven of a life. So as far as I am concerned, I am the light at the end of the tunnel. [Cheers and applause] Psshhh, who?</p> <p>See, you all are not your average students, which is why this is not your average commencement day celebration. These are not even your average commencement day gowns you're wearing, all pristine and unblemished. No, that ain't you, that's not how you get down, nu-uh. Your gown has a little dish soap and sauce stains from all the nights you came home after work to find a raggedy pot of Hamburger Helper on the stove, and a mostly clean kitchen, courtesy of your loving husband and son, who are stepping up their chore game so that you can get right to your coursework and get that business degree, huh? </p> <p>Your gown, your gown has camouflaged fatigues stitched into the lining from the many nights you spent faithfully serving your country that sometimes felt like a cakewalk compared to surviving the battlefield of clinical microbiology while being number 400 in the queue. 400? [Laughter] I won't be alive by then. </p> <p>See, we are each robed in the gowns that tell our story as we congregate today. Even me. See, this is not your average commencement day speech, because in case you haven't noticed, this is not your average commencement day speaker. No, this is poetic voice, right? And most of you, you don't even know what that means. You're like, "I don't know, what is he? It's a performer, right?" Poetic voice is simply the seamless integration of inspirational speaking and spoken word poetry, creating an experience where it's not perform and applaud, and then speak, perform, and applaud, and then speak. It's a seamless integration. So you don't know where the business speaking ends and the trains begin. [Trains in background] You don't know where the trains end, and the storytelling begins, where the theater, the comedy, the poetry ends and begins, right? </p> <p>And that's the beauty of what you all have created, right? You defied the word "or". You're saying, no, "and." I'm all about and, right? Same with me. People ask, "Are you a speaker or an entertainer?" I answer, "Yes, absolutely." "Are you a performer or a presenter?" "Yes." Is it business content or is it artistry?" "Yes." Right? So I know what you're going through, right? Because the world has been asking you the same type of questions. "Wait, are you going to go straight to college out of high school or are you going to get a job?" "Yes." "Are you going to serve your country or are you going to go to college?" "Yes." "Are you going to be a husband for your spouse or be a college graduate in your house?" "Yes." "Make dinner for your kids, or make partner at your firm?" "Yes." "Be a parent to your kids or be an example to your kids?" "Yes." [Applause] </p> <p>Because you can't do both is what they will try to tell you. And when they do, that's when we each respond with what? "Psshhh... who?" See, I must have a little night owl in me too, right? I must, because they say, you know, they used to tell me all the time, "Oh, you know what, you won't make it as a full-time poet. That's just ridiculous." Now I've been a full-time poet for 17 years. I'm like, "Psshhh, who?" Right? They say you won't make it in speaking, in the speaking world with spoken world poetry, you should abandon that and just stick with the conventional, the traditional way of being a speaker." And I've been a communications company, a successful communications company, and built it all on the backs of the words "I thought I hated poetry, but I kind of like that." I'm always pushing myself into new, uncharted terrain, despite what everybody tells me. </p> <p>And to be honest, I'm still pushing my way into new, scary spaces. Can I share, just because it's family and friends here? Can I share my new scary space with ya'll? Okay? There is not a contemporary spoken word poetry that typically wins the Grammy. And I just launched a new album, that is actually going to try to be the first spoken word poet that beats audio books and gets the Grammy, because my purpose is to create an industry for young spoken word poets whereby they can make a purposeful and profitable living. So that when people tell them "You will never make money as a poet," they can turn around to the world and say, "Psshhh, who?" So I want you guys to hold space for my new album, and me continuing to push myself into new spaces like the Grammy's. I'm excited. </p> <p>And if it sounds like I've got a whole lot to prove, oh, yeah, I do. But just like you did. Just like you did, when your boss said, "Oh, you think you're promotional material? Prove it." When your kids said, "Oh, so you think a college degree is achievable for me? Well, you prove it." When the statistics said you think you can be the exception to our rules? Well, I'll tell you what, the proof is in the pudding. Which is why, when you hear your name echo through this stadium today, I want you to step through these aisles, into these aisles, like they are pudding fashion runways. [laughter]</p> <p>You'd better strut through this room looking like homemade, fresh out the pot tapioca, huh? When you walk across this stage, you'd better stride past us looking like grandma's banana pudding, huh? With the good bananas, none of them brown bananas, right? If you are a graduate online at home, I want you to get up and swagger walk around your living room looking like Louisiana bread pudding with Mexican chocolate, topped with caramelized bananas, and vanilla bourbon sauce. </p> <p>And graduates, if you feel like this speech is starting to make you hungry... you're wrong. It's not the speech. No, that hunger has been in you long before I ever showed up. That hunger is what got you through. Constantly hearing the voices of family, and friends, and bosses. "You never come out with us any more." "Daddy, how come you're always so tired?" "You know you can't pass that course, you're not that smart." "You're late to work again." "Let me guess, you have to study." "Dear God, please, please, please let mommy hurry up and get her nursing degree so she can come home and be our mommy again." </p> <p>That hunger is what got you through all of that. But today is no longer about the hunger. No, today is finally about the feast. Feasting on the fruits of your labor today. It's not about the thirst, today is about the toast, raising glasses to you pursuing the best version of yourself. Today is about celebrating the harvest of your work at this college of IT that was built on the hard work for the working. </p> <p>This college of health professions that grows students who are already grown. This teaching college that grinds out degrees for those on the grind. This college of business that lives to help those who have lived. This new kind of you that works to no end to help students reach the end, where graduates don't finish like stop. They finish like win. They don't stop or say "when" they only stop at the end, long enough to toss their cap, have a party, and then begin the next chapter of their journey, this time stronger within with the skills to know how to fall and get back up again to hold your head high because you stay lifting your chin because you've proven that your best version can better itself again. [cheers]</p> <p>This here is not a speech to celebrate the first version of you. No, no, no, this is a speech to celebrate You-point 2, huh? I'm talking update and repeat like You point 3. Upgrade to even more like You point 4, uplevel and multiplying. This is You point 5. Surrounded by faculty and staff, kids, dads, moms who remind you to never stop short, always go long and help you to finish strong like degrees made of Teflon. And night owl, telling the word "never", to bring it on. Because this is the day you show there's no storm you cannot weather. </p> <p>This is the place you prove there's no aspiration on chasing forever. And this is the moment the world learned the futility of telling you "never." Because today is when you put the world on notice that your best... just... got... better. Thank you.</p>
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