Good evening ladies and gentlemen. To the Class of 2023, congratulations on finally making it to the starting line.
I have been invited here tonight to speak to you as your second most trusted DJ.
For a guy who can drink a lot of Dr. Pepper on a Friday night, Moqui dances were a little too long to go without a break. So I’d put the tunes on autopilot and quickly dash to the restroom. You learn a lot about these kids when the DJ desk in unsupervised: After only being gone a minute, I’d return to find a group of kids swarming the DJ desk, with new unfamiliar music playing and the chaperones passed out — one from the new music, and the other from something in the punch bowl.
With Ben, the DJ hijacking was always some gag like “Baby Shark.” In fact, the only one of these kids I would have trusted with the console was Colton but he was never aggressive enough to grab the mouse. These other kids, I don’t know. McKynlee couldn’t get enough of Miley Cyrus so I always had something picked out for her. Nadia would have just played Rachmaninoff — not that great for dancing. Briannon would have streamed dead silence in HD and just shrug when we asked her what it was. And Paisley? No doubt she would be playing the “clean” version of all the songs that just can’t be cleaned.
All aside, I admit I cannot think of any other disc jockey that has been asked to speak at a graduation commencement, anywhere, ever, so I am truly honored.
If you look at me, you will see I’m probably still a little too young to offer much useful advice to the graduates. Many others in this room could offer much more. But I have had a few experiences in my first half, and for everything I lack, I have drawn on the experiences of much wiser men and women.
We all spend a lifetime trying to find true meaning in our lives. We want to live a “full life.” But so often, we feel lost on our path to find it. School prepares us to deal with some of life’s uncertainty, but there are some things school can’t teach you. So tonight I speak to you as a private citizen, outside the school system.
To experience the full life, there are four things you must find.
First, Find Wealth.
During the era of our grandparents, high school graduation marked the end of a person’s education, right before they directly entered the workforce. Today, most go on to pursue a post-secondary education, either at a college or trade school. In fact, earlier this year the Lumina Foundation reported that a record 54% of adults have attained a college degree or credential. Utah ranked second highest in the nation at 61%, just after Massachusetts.
There are two reasons why people pursue more education: first, to earn a living, and second, for personal enrichment — and I’m talking about learning for the sake of expanding one’s talents. I am here to tell you that the first reason, making a living, is vastly more important than the second reason. Why? Because you have to make a living.
So often in our school system, we encourage our students to “follow your heart” when choosing a career. But this is only half of what you should do. A career path also has to make sense in your mind. In only talking about choosing a career you will enjoy, we present students with a false choice: you can either have a career you love, or a career that will earn you a living.
That is the wrong way to look at this choice. You already know you have at least five possible careers that interest you. Among the possible choices, there are probably a couple that will also pay you well.
In Jim Collin’s bestseller, Good to Great, he talks about this question of deciding how to make a living. Of course, he is talking about how companies make the decision, but the same applies to us as individuals.
In what Collins refers to as the “Hedgehog Concept,” he lists three essential criteria for you to consider in making a career choice: First, what are you deeply passionate about? Second, what can you be the best in the world at? And third, what will drive your economic engine? Or in other words, what will provide you a good living?
The second criterion Collins mentioned about being the best is often overlooked too, and applies to every young man seeking a career with the NBA: No, you don’t have to be the very best to go pro, but in choosing a field, it’s best to choose one in which job opportunities outnumber the candidates seeking them. The NBA’s odds are the worst I’ve seen — with about nine openings for every 10,000 interested young men.
Seek a career that will not only provide for you and your family, but one that will also pay well enough that you can also do the things you love. If you are a woman, my advice is the same to you. If you don’t take care to make a good living first, you will never have the time to do what you really love.
After first studying geology at BYU, I chose a career that would pay well in a field with a lot of work, that also allowed me to live wherever I wanted. For me, that was accounting. Now I am self-employed and living where I want, and so far I have been blessed enough to be in a position to do what I really love on the side, which is to serve in the community, at church, and at school. I am able to serve only because I chose a career that took care of my needs first.
Second, Find Someone to Marry.
I just talked about gaining wealth, but that’s just for survival. From here on out, I’m talking about things that actually will add meaning in your life.
Speaking of marriage and having kids is frowned on by popular culture these days. Many have tried it, and some have had miserable failures through no fault of their own. Some, looking only at failed marriages, proudly proclaim that they will seek an “independent” life instead. But don’t let these voices discourage you from seeking after one of the most fulfilling aspects of life.
In America, we are not accustomed to thinking that we have a social caste, or class system like in many other countries. But we do have a class system, between the wealthy elites and the poor working class. And in recent years, the gap between the two has widened.
But unlike other countries, in America, you get to choose which class you are in.
In 2016, a study examined the concept of “economic mobility” — which measures the percent chance a child raised in the bottom income quintile can grow up and make enough to be in the top quintile. The idea is that in a firm caste system, you can only be as wealthy as your parents.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The study found that among America’s largest metro areas, Salt Lake City had one of the highest income mobility rates in the nation: a child born in the bottom quintile had a 10.8% chance of joining the top quintile. Other parts of Utah ranked even better.
Megan McArdle, writing for Bloomberg, went to Utah to find out what Utah was doing to provide their children with such a huge economic advantage. She explored the Church’s welfare system and also looked at factors like the school system and our racial homogeneity.
But she found, as did the researchers, that Utah’s high economic mobility was most strongly correlated to our high marriage rate. The study suggests “that having two married parents is a bedrock foundation of economic mobility — one that is rapidly eroding in modern America.” The author then spends the rest of the article musing about how to replicate Utah’s success — but without marriage!
Indeed, it has become rather unpopular to discuss marriage in public policy in recent years. Other writers have noted that while it is mostly liberal elites who are the most critical of marriage, they are also the most likely to practice it themselves. Not only is the marriage rate higher for college grads, but their divorce rate is just half of the national average. This prompted authors like Charles Murray to call on elites to “preach what they practice.”
You graduates have made it here today because someone loved you enough to get you here. It has been your parents. We know that you are well aware of your parents’ faults and that you weren’t raised in a perfectly ideal setting. We parents are also painfully aware of that. But our failures are no excuse for you: learn from our mistakes. We expect you to do better for your kids than we did for you.
Give your children the best shot at success. Find someone to marry, and give yourself completely to them for at least one whole lifetime. You will probably not be ready for marriage for a while. But in the meantime, be careful not to do anything that will destroy your chances for a successful marriage. Do not surrender yourself to an addiction to substances, screen time, or pornography. It’s not worth it.
Third, Find Love.
Now I am not speaking of romantic love; I am talking about finding a love for mankind.
As we live life with purpose, we are faced with many decisions about how to spend our time, how to serve, and how to make the world better. We may know in our minds what the right thing is, but that is not enough.
We use reason to know what is right. But it is our emotions that drive us to do what is right.
The world’s most powerful corporations, media, politicians and governments use fear and anger to control people. But even though fear and anger are the sharpest drivers, love is still the most powerful motivator because of its lasting power.
You may wonder what your calling is in life. You may wonder what causes to fight for, or where you should serve. Let love clarify the answer.
When you love people, you care for them and want what is best for them. You want others to be happy. You want others to grow and improve. Love even allows you to cheer others on when they are excelling you.
Finding love for people is not easy. Some of them hate you in return and try to push you down. How do we look past this?
We find that the more we understand a person’s story, the more we understand their behavior. Similarly, we know the meanest dogs on the block are psychologically wired that way from their experiences. When we approach these injured dogs, we can still love them even if we have to wear leather gloves for our own protection.
Love clarifies. Love gives us the eye of God. It allows us to see past other’s negative behavior. Love allows us to look in others’ eyes, pierce their walls, and gaze straight into their soul.
Our love for others allows us to see more clearly. Likewise, the love we see, or don’t see in others, is the greatest marker for who we can trust. There will be many willing to offer you life advice. How do you know if you can trust them? Ask yourself: “Is he telling me this because he cares about me?” That’s it. For that reason, be wary of voices in your life seeking to tear you down. Be wary of voices or causes seeking to rouse your anger. No, they don’t care about you. Not one bit.
Finally, Find God.
In our lives, we look to the great men and women of the past, seeking to emulate their best qualities. We want to be as successful, or happy, or influential as they were. Why not then, look to emulate perfect deity?
Our perspective of the universe is extremely limited. Our understanding is much like that of a dog — who wanders blissfully through the neighborhood from one fire hydrant to the next. Psychologically, evolution has not designed him to reason like Man; he can’t interpret music for one — and he has no comprehension of the depth of love we have for him.
We gaze into the vastness of the universe, which seems to have no boundaries. Scientists even acknowledge that there is very likely space beyond space — outside of the three dimensions we can observe. There is a lot we don’t know about the universe.
The chances that there is no God to be found in all of that, is essentially 0%. Mathematically, an infinite space could also include everything, including an Intelligence, with all vision, all knowledge, all virtue, and all power. I don’t have the time today to get into the logic why this must be, but such a Being must also contain all love.
Evolution has wired humans to survive and to experience true happiness in raising families. But evolution also comes with one curious accident: that is, we are also wired to believe in a God. Because of this, a belief in God is universal across every culture where atheism is not actively taught.
I have spoken of God in a secular, general way. But as you seek to find God for yourself, you will find a personal God, who is aware of you and loves you.
Such a power as God can be a source of great strength in our lives. As we come to know God for ourselves, we find a greater understanding of the world and its people. We gain greater clarity on what we should be doing with our lives. And most of all, it increases our capacity to love.
In order to experience the full life, we can find wealth, find someone to marry, find love, and find God. It’s a great recipe for life — and even if you can find only two or three of these ingredients, you can still have a great life.
All of us will have periods in our lives when the path is dark and so much seems uncertain. But those who seek will find.
Graduates, we love you. You are a generation in a long line of generations before you, and a long line of generations to follow you. Up until now, you have drawn on the legacy of your fathers and mothers before you.
But now, this is your time. Ahead of the generations to come, it is now your turn to make a legacy for them. And in your short time, you will find true meaning in the legacy you make — in how you love, and how you serve the human family.
– by AJ Martel
Feature image caption: AJ Martel speaks to Escalante High School’s graduating class of six at their graduation on May 26, 2023.
The Commencement Speech Given at the Escalante High School Graduation.
AJ Martel – Escalante
AJ Martel is the youth coordinator at The Byway, but he is involved in most everything. He and his family live in Escalante, and they love it here! AJ has found Utah’s small towns quite inviting and under-defended, which is why he’s so involved with the paper. What AJ loves to do most, though, is serve his community. That is clear through everything he writes and does for Escalante, Utah.