Blogger note: This keynote graduation speech was written by Beena Koshy, Resource Center and Career Devlopment instructor. Her advice to recent graduates, based on the movie "Catch Me if You Can," is to dream big, work hard and leave a legacy.
I have a confession to make: I am a junkie – a relatively reformed junkie, but a junkie nonetheless. I have shot heroine, smoked coke, assaulted people, broke my brother out of prison and foiled terrorist plots. Okay, so I am really just a movie junkie --that clarification is necessary so my boss does not ask me to take a week off permanently!
Many of us have our favorite actors – for me it’s easily Leonardo DiCaprio.
You may know him from a little movie called "Titanic"; while he has starred in many blockbuster hits, my favorite Leo film is undoubtedly “Catch Me if You Can.”
If you've never seen it – I’ll get you up to speed: teenage boy outsmarts the government by writing bad checks and eventually counterfeiting his own money. It’s based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. Part of his elaborate scheme was developing a new persona everywhere he went. He posed as pilot, a doctor, and even a lawyer – all before he was even 19 years old.
I like the movie because even as a teenager, Abagnale lived for the moment. And in that idea, I think there are some take away lessons for all of us.
First, dream big.
Now, I don’t mean illegally dream big. Don’t take this as a blank check to pursue counterfeiting. Only about five people got that joke – and to those of you that did – thank you for being here tonight. Instead, dream with your whole heart. Make the unimaginable imaginable. Make the impossible possible. It’s in your power to create a noticeable, significant, and meaningful change in society.
Lyman Frank Baum once wrote:
"Imagination led Columbus to discover America, [and] Franklin to discover electricity. [It gave] us the steam engine, the telephone, and the automobile, these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams--are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. ." And you know what? He should know. Maybe the name Lyman doesn’t ring a bell, but as the author of the Wizard of Oz, I think he knows a thing or two about dreaming. So, how do I know you can do it? Because you already have. You took the first step after you dreamed about school. Here you are. Dreams can come true and you are living proof. My word of caution is this. Always let your dreams be one step ahead of you. You can do bigger and better things even more than you imagined. Let me rephrase – especially more than you imagined.
“Catch Me if You Can” wasn’t just about dreaming big, it was about working hard. Frank Abagnale pretended to be many people. For each one of these positions, he studied its intricacies. For example, he was able to practice law because he actually passed the bar exam in Louisiana.
Hard work. It sounds so easy. What’s the big deal? Well, hard work requires sacrifice. The real world doesn’t care if you have a family, friends, or a hot date on Friday night. The real world cares about discipline, dedication, and deadlines. Sounds morbid doesn’t it? But the reality is that hard work gets rewarded. People notice hard workers and the most important person who notices …. is you. You take pride in working hard because you know you sacrificed. Today, your family, friends, faculty and staff are here to celebrate your hard work. But the hard work can’t and won’t stop here. You’ve been given valuable tools to use in the workplace. Tools that will help you get noticed for the hard work you’ll demonstrate. But, they’ll only be of good use – if you use them. Henry Ford once said one of my favorite quotations: “Whether you think or can or think you can’t. You’re right.”
The final lesson that “Catch Me if You Can” taught was the importance of legacy. Many of us are content with a 72-day marriage legacy . . . I am not one of those people. Frank Abagnale held many jobs and changed his name many times. After he was caught, he had a few opportunities to escape policy custody. Each time, he returned. It wasn’t until police were stumped with another case that Abagnale came back into the limelight – this time on the side of the law rather than opposed to it. As the resident expert in his field, he was able to catch criminals like himself.
You see, to those he works with, Frank isn’t known as a lawbreaker; he’s known as a law abider. And this is my call to you: What’s your legacy? Now, many people believe a lasting legacy means changing the world. If you can do that, great! But changing the world doesn’t mean you have to have power or position – it only requires passion. What’s great is that you already have it. You have passion for your family, your friends, and now an amazing career that is ready and waiting for you.
When I was younger, I was asked to write my own obituary for a composition assignment and I found the process daunting – not because I was scared of my own death, although that’s a major concern, I found it difficult because I didn’t know how I wanted to be remembered. Many years later I read the story of Alfred Nobel, and it changed my perspective on legacy. Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite – in his time, that was the most destructive substance known to man. It wasn’t until his brother died, and the paper mistakenly wrote Alfred’s obituary instead that he realized the importance of legacy. He read how he would be remembered – for starting war, conflict, death and destruction. He immediately decided to change his life. We now know him because of the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated his life savings to encourage peace and harmony in the world. So, now, I ask you – what’s your legacy? I am not asking you to be a hero, donate your life savings, or dedicate your life to a cause. I am asking you to make a difference every day at work. I am asking you to remember that you do and can make a difference each and everyday. Your legacy begins and ends with you.
Now that we have all come to realize what an amazing movie “Catch Me if You Can” is, you’ll all be shocked to know it didn’t receive many awards. Thankfully, by that point, director Steven Spielbergs’ films had already been nominated for ten Academy Awards. He had even won the award for best director for "Shindler’s List." But that wasn’t enough for him.
You see, this speech wasn’t really about Leonardo DiCaprio or "Catch Me if You Can." What most people don’t know is that Steven Spielberg tried twice – unsuccessfully -- to attend college. It was only 35 years after he first applied – in 2002 -- the same year "Catch Me if You Can" was released – that he DID receive his Bachelor’s degree… in what else? Film. Even after receiving honorary degrees from other universities, Spielberg felt an enormous desire to go back to school and EARN his credentials.
If he were here today, I am sure he’d share in this sentiment: Education is not given; it’s earned. People can take many things away from you – but education – education is the one thing that can’t be taken, shaken, or compromised. Once you have it, it’s yours.
I guess that is one of the things I like most about “Catch Me if You Can” – Frank Abagnale, Jr. believed that he could always outsmart the guy next to him. And that’s what I find so fascinating about Spielberg. With all his awards, all of his money, all of his fame, he didn’t see himself as untouchable – until he had a degree.
After six minutes of motivation, I’ll leave you with a story Frank’s father told him which I think will resonate with you: “Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn't quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”
Now, You. Which mouse are you? I think we all know that answer. You are that second mouse, too.
At this point, I know what you are thinking – Did Beena cite her sources? With degree in hand, I am sure you’ll soon be saying what I am saying--- “Catch me . . if you can!”