Thousands of Oklahoma students are graduating in May; many this weekend. We asked some notable and interesting Oklahomans what they’d say to this year’s graduates, or what they wish they would have heard at their graduations.
We’ve compiled the advice into one extensive highlight reel of would-be graduation speeches.
First on our list are thoughts about college from a father-daughter team, Oklahoma country music superstar Toby Keith, who wanted his daughter to go to college, and his daughter, Krystal Keith, emerging music recording artist, who didn’t want to go.
After that, individuals at many different stages of life offer their wisdom to recent graduates, whether from high school or college:
Toby Keith, 51, Oklahoma country music superstar: ‘Be relentless’
“You just have to be really careful because some of these colleges are teaching such a political view in classes that have nothing to do with politics ... but I still think it’s important. You just have to research it. Find your way. Have a game plan and carry it out.
“And be relentless. Don’t let anybody outwork you. I told them the day I signed my record deal, ‘There may be people out-sing or out-write me or sell more tickets than me or more records than me, but they’ll never outwork me.’ And they never did. There was no one that put in the time that we did. ...
“So be productive, have a plan and carry it out. And give back.”
Krystal Keith, 27, emerging Oklahoma country music recording artist who just released her first EP, daughter of country superstar Toby Keith and University of Oklahoma graduate
“After high school, I was like ‘Nashville, here I come.’ And he (her country superstar dad, Toby Keith) was like, ‘No, I said college.’ I was like, ‘No you didn’t. You just said graduation,’ and he’s like ‘college graduation.’
“I kind of thought that I would work my way out of having to go to college. I got to do ‘Mockingbird’ (a hit duet with her dad), and I had the fever. So I kind of didn’t really take school seriously the first year or two, and he did not give in. I thought that he would eventually be like, ‘OK, college isn’t your thing; let’s just go into music.’ And he held his ground and just was really firm on it. Finally, I was just like, ‘You know what, he’s not giving in. I’ve gotta get this over with or I’ll never have a music career.’ And I literally did four years of school in 2½ years; I took every intercession, everything. ...
“He definitely knew what he was doing. I can’t tell you how immensely important the experience of college was on my life, just finding out who you are and just getting life experience and being around other people. The whole experience matures you, so to have the life skills and life knowledge I have now, it helps me with my writing. It helps me with every aspect of my career. You know, I took business classes, so that helps me on the business side of it. If I would have gone into this industry at 18, there’s no telling where I’d be right now. No telling. It really gives you the opportunity to become who you need to be to survive in this world.
“I fought it, and I’m actually thinking about getting my MBA now. So to go from somebody that really fought having to go to college at all to somebody that’s considering an MBA just because I want it is a pretty big turnaround I would say.”
Annina Collier, director of public relations, Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain: Resilience and relationships will define you more than successes
“It might not be the most uplifting or inspiring thing to say, but I think all young people need to hear this: You are going to fail. You can try your best to do everything ‘right,’ but you’ll never be able to anticipate the powerful forces in the universe that can lay waste to your best-laid plans.
“Some of it will be your fault; some of it won’t. You’ll be measured not by your successes and failures, but by your resilience and adaptability.
“And most importantly, you’ll be measured by your relationships. Call your mother. Hang out with your dad. If you are lucky enough to find a partner in life, feel grateful for that person every day. If you have children, spend as much time with them as you can, because one day you’ll be sitting in the bleachers at their graduation, hoping they’ll make time for you.”
Annina Collier graduated from Norman High School in 1996 and gave a rather nostalgic commencement speech at her graduation ceremony. She earned a bachelor’s degree in musical arts summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s in music from Ithaca College in New York. She has performed at New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall and the Juilliard School, and she appears on two CDs with Albany Records. Collier studied at the University of Limerick in Ireland and taught world music at the University of Oklahoma before becoming the director of public relations and outreach of the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain in 2004.
Jane Jayroe Gamble, writer, former Miss America and television news anchor: ‘Don’t delay joy.’
“Advice for the fabulous graduates of 2013: Accept the great gift of education but also gather the gifts of wisdom through the heart of experience. Remember to be nice: You never know who could play an important role in your future. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. Be grateful: in good times because they don’t last forever and in bad times because that’s what saves you.
“Bring your best: whether it’s a job, lifestyle habits or volunteering. Best effort sets you apart, builds self respect and offers meaningful rewards. Try to avoid debt and don’t marry it. The sooner you learn to manage money the more freedom and security you will enjoy.
“Don’t wait to be happy — until the right job, a perfect spouse, a higher wage, a great weight, a new car, that first home — don’t delay joy. God’s party is within you — today.”
John Griffin, attorney, Crowe & Dunlevy: You need more than an education to get a job
“I might offer something like this: ‘Congratulations, you now have a B.A., a B.S., an M.B.A., a P.H.D., a J.D., or an M.D.; what you really need now is a J.O.B.! To get a job in this economy you need more than a good education; you need a pleasing personality, a willingness to work hard, and a commitment to put your employer’s interests ahead of your own.
“‘To be successful today, you will have to give more than you receive. Do not be afraid to take a job for which you are overqualified. You will excel in that job, and it will lead to rapid advancement. Be patient, you have the education, you have the personality, you have the willingness to work, you have the commitment, you will succeed!’”
Rilla Askew, author of “The Mercy Seat” and “Kind of Kin”: Cherish where you came from
“I would encourage graduates to look deep, with clear eyes, at the place you come from — this land, this city, town, home, family — the forces that have already shaped you. At this exciting time, young people’s eyes are naturally — and with good reason — on the future, the limitless horizon. It seems the world starts ‘out there’ somewhere. But cherishing, without either sentiment or cynicism, the place you come from gives a kind of grounding that will serve you the rest of your life.”
Tripp Hall, vice president, Office of Development, University of Oklahoma: Bits of wisdom I have learned
“The following are lessons in life I have learned from others:
“‘Go forth and travel while you’re young. As you get older you may have the means, but not the time.’ (Henry Zarrow)
“‘If you have your health you are the wealthiest person alive.’ (Zarrow)
“And here are the lessons I learned on my own:
“Never let your ego get in the way of good judgment.
“It is always easy for me to be nice to nice people.
“Your conduct, behavior and actions are constantly being judged. Will others rule in your favor?
“These are just a few thoughts I have learned from others and by experience.”
Dr. Anu Bajaj, Oklahoma City plastic surgeon: What I would have wanted to hear from a commencement speaker
“I’m trying to remember all of the advice that I heard when I was younger. The truth is that I can’t remember a single thing that was said to me at a commencement address — including high school, college and medical school graduations. However, looking back, I did receive one piece of advice that gave me the courage to create my path and brought me to where I am today.
“One of my surgery attendings told me to ‘follow my passion.’ Many times, we are caught up in trying to move from one step to the next; in the process, we forget why we do what we do — in high school, we work hard to get to college; in college we work hard to get to grad school; in grad school, we work hard to get a job; then we work hard to earn a living. But the most important part is that we love what we do, and that we find a way to do what we love. Once I started doing the things that I loved, my career path and life path fell into place. I may not always be successful, but I don’t live my life with regrets, and I always follow my heart.
Scott Kinnaird, dad of a senior graduating this spring from Edmond Memorial High School: Compassion, curiosity among keys to success
“I would offer any graduating senior the same guidance I share with my own children. These three simple concepts can help any person, young or old, prepare for what the world has to offer.
“First, be respectful and compassionate. It starts with your own self, because you’re no good to others unless you’re good to yourself. You can’t control what others give you in return, but at the very least, greeting people from respect and compassion, you’ll do no harm. And the majority of people in the world will respond in kind and even be attracted to such a rare quality.
“Secondly, be constructive and productive. Learn quickly how to carry your own weight so you have a better chance of carrying the weight of others. And build something, create something; don’t just consume.
“And, finally, stay curious. No one wants to be around a know-it-all jerk. If you stay curious, you’ll remain open to new information. Then you won’t be imprisoned by your beliefs, you’ll be empowered by what’s possible.”
David Egan, director of operations for Cattlemen’s Steakhouse: Try out different jobs first
“My advice has always been to try a number of different jobs BEFORE going to college or vo-tech. This allows you to get a feel for what type of work seems to fit your style the most. I see countless folks who are not in the industry they spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours getting a degree in. Most of them wish they had found their niche before their investment. The right career is the one that has you whistling all the way to work, and can’t imagine how everyone else doesn’t love it, too.
Josh Sallee, Oklahoma rapper: ‘You, as a human being, are already original’
“The past year, for me, was filled with an abundance of highs, lows, new experiences, unfamiliar faces, crazy opportunities and, most importantly, progress. From college to relationships to the very thing I’ve desired to be musically, constant growth has been key.
“We must learn from experiences and mistakes, whether our own or that someone else has made, and figure out the things that really make us tick. That one thing that makes you wake up too early and stay up way too late. That one thing that makes you happier than you could possibly imagine but broken to the point of questioning if it’s even right. That one thing that makes you feel perfectly in place, when everything around you couldn’t seem more complicated. It’s about picking your passions and pursuing them with every last bit of who we are.
“We should never turn away influence in an effort to be ‘original.’ You, as a human being, are already original. The things we grew up loving and hating and wanting to be have molded us into the beautifully flawed beings that we are. Find those passions, keep your balance, and give it everything you got without any regards to others critique. Once you let opinion affect your individual creativity, you let them ‘win.’”
Jami Smith, contemporary Christian recording artist, worship leader and Oklahoma native: ‘Be intentional about the life you want’
“As you look with excitement toward your newfound freedom, those closest to you are wondering ‘What will you do with it?’ A better question might be, ‘What will it do to you?’
“I hope and pray that parents, teachers and loved ones have been pouring into you. What did you learn? How did you benefit? What’s next for you? And how will you carry the best of yourself into this next chapter?
“I don’t know if your next chapter is college. I hope it is and I hope you stick with it. But even more than that, I hope you commit yourself to a God that loves you and is calling you to a higher purpose. Seek that purpose. Be intentional. Kevin Durant didn’t become a great basketball player by accident. Andrew Luck or Sam Bradford didn’t become Number 1 draft picks because they woke up one day wanting it, and Brad Paisley didn’t become an amazing guitar player without a lot of sweat. No, they each decided a long time ago to work really hard to be excellent at what they do. And they all work at being the best every day.
“Be intentional about the life you want. Be intentional about your relationship with God. Imitate Jesus Christ. If you don’t know anything about Him, seek Him out. Get a Bible. Read the book of John. Learn about Him. Follow Him every day. Every day, for the rest of your life. And then, you will be great.”
Jabee, Oklahoma City hip hop artist: ‘Make sure you have a plan’
“My advice would be not to waste time, get a plan and stick to it. After you graduate, life flies by, so make sure you have a plan set. Watch who you hang around. A lot of people I went to school with are doing the same things they were doing in school.
“The choice you make today will determine where you are in years to come.”
George Earl Johnson Jr., communications professional, public speaker and author: ‘Anchor your character in good’
“In leaving government service after 44 years, I had a commencement exercise, not a retirement party. For to commence, is to begin anew. Your commencement this spring is the next mark on your road map of life’s journey.
“The character you’re building will tell people what type of person you are becoming — as a friend, co-worker, professional associate and as a leader in your home, church, community and this nation.
“Moral and ethical considerations have been complicated by advances in technologies. The world you are inheriting is a complex global one. What you do or don’t do today affects your seven billion brothers and sisters every day, everywhere on Earth.
“Work diligently to make the space you occupy more valuable than you found it. Add value to life and value will be added unto you, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. Anchor your character in good; for evil needs no help from you.”
George Earl Johnson Jr. is president of G.B. Johnson Inc., a leadership communications company. He was communications director for Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services from 1994-2010. Johnson recently wrote “Only in America — 101 Stories in Leadership and Life’s Lessons Learned,” which Tate Publishing LLC released in December.
Robert Ruiz, communications director for the new Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads: Your relationships will feed your soul
“Although we are here celebrating a momentous step towards your ultimate careers, and your career choices will have a great impact on your financial security and comfort, never forget that true happiness comes from never losing sight of who you are as an individual, and never putting that career ahead of your relationships. Your career may feed your body, but the love in those relationships will feed your soul.
“Time is fleeting, so make wise choices. Always tell the truth. Always help those in need. Always do your best, and you will live a life free of regret. Hold your head up high, and know there will be difficult times. But also, be confident that good times await you as well. May good fortune be with you.”
Robert Black, corporate chef, A Good Egg Dining Group: ‘Work hard, and have a little fun’
“Work hard, and have a little fun. As Dave Ramsey would say, ‘If you work like no one else, later you can live like no one else.’”
CONTRIBUTING: Helen Ford Wallace, George Lang,
Rick Rogers, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Brandy McDonnell, Dave Cathey,
Carla Hinton and Heather Warlick