Congratulations to the Class of 2013: A Message to Our Future

Recently, I was provided with the opportunity to speak at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) graduation as their commencement speaker. This was a great honor; it was my first commencement speech, and hopefully not my last. But, who knows! Either way, I tried my best to be funny, motivational, and provide a few pieces of advice. I want to take this opportunity to bore you with a little recap from my speech and experience.

It all started out really well, I received a standing ovation. That is just how impressive I am; it wasn’t that I asked them to do that. Well, I actually did ask everyone to stand and give a round of applause, and then I said, “Well, at least I can say my speech started out well with a round of applause, just in case I really tank or bomb.” Yeah, that is exactly how I roll! I thanked the students, administration, faculty, and families for bearing through my speech and allowing me to participate in the graduation.

It is interesting, over the last year, I have realized that my speaking style is like a preacher, not my words, but those of many past attendees. I have learned to embrace this as I speak around the United States to professionals, teenagers, adults, and distinguished pets that are willing to listen. I believe in making my presentations interactive, and I tend to ask questions and for responses at times. As I got going, I thought this might not be the typical commencement address style, but you asked for Joe Strechay, and you are going to get Joe Strechay.

In preparation for the speech, I viewed a ton of YouTube videos of past commencement addresses. I debated whether I was more like Steve Jobs, Conan O’Brien, or Seth Myers. I went with Jon Stewart from the Daily Show (just kidding).

I stressed five major points to the graduates:

  • Put yourself out there: Meaning take measured risks because all successful people have failed at one time or another. Be resilient and full of fortitude, as life is not easy.
  • Be self-aware: Know your strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware allows persons to manage their weaknesses and improve. A person who is self-aware is comfortable with who they are, and in that case comfortable with their disability, blindness or visual impairment.
  • Be of service to your community and others: Volunteer and serve in your community. It is important to give back, but even more important as a person with a disability. Often, the perception is that people with disabilities are just taking, but that is wrong. And, all of us should be out there showing them that it is wrong! It also allows us to expand our personal network, and it provides us with opportunities to practice, hone, and demonstrate our skills.
  • Action plan, action plan, and action plan: Many successful people and businesses use action plans to navigate, plan, and move through life. Our teens should be utilizing this skill early on. Creating overarching goals with well-defined objectives can define a path. The objectives need to have defined timelines for success, to allow for creating accountability.
  • The last and most important point: Soy milk! Wait, soy milk? That one is from my grocery list, and that is important for navigating through the grocery store, much like navigating through life.”

So, in closing: Put yourself out there; be self-aware; be of service to your community and others; action plan, action plan, and action plan; and of course, don’t forget the soy milk!