I'd been invited to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2017 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Speaking live on television is one thing ... speaking to 30,000 people in a football stadium is another.
Besides, this was personal. I'm a proud graduate of UNC (Class of 2001) — so I was going home.
To write my speech, I needed to go back to who I was in that same stadium wearing my Carolina blue robe 16 years ago. I wanted to remember what my 21-year-old self was thinking, and what advice I would have loved to have heard back then.
I was at CNN last week interviewing NBA legend Charles Barkley. After we wrapped, I grabbed my phone and opened Instagram
. (He's a friend — he knows I bleed Carolina blue.)
I told him about this commencement speech coming up and asked what advice he would give. And in true Sir Charles fashion, he had a fantastic answer
: "You hope that their degree is in something they can really enjoy, because work is not as much fun if you're doing something you don't really like to do."
I figured a few people would enjoy our video — but I didn't expect such a reaction and requests for more. It occurred to me: Why don't I reach out to some of my more recognizable friends and see who'd be willing to play along?
In life, it's amazing how often people will say yes. You just have to ask.
My question was: "what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?" I got amazing responses from Billy Bob Thornton
, Alec Baldwin
, Sheryl Crow
— even NBA star Grant Hill
, who, yes, went to Duke. I also asked some of my favorite CNNers and my nearest and dearest friends, including US Navy Commander Bobby Rashad Jones
, who I've known since the 7th grade.
What I loved is that no two responses were alike.
Spring is a time for inspiring our graduates. But I think the unexpected part was the responses from the (ahem) ... older crowd. We all need a little advice.
I'll leave with you with my parting words to these graduates on Sunday, which I think is relevant at any age:
"People are full of great advice... Professors, parents, friends mean well...
But in the end the person driving this thing called life is you.
Listen to you. Spend time being alone. Learn your worth. Dream.
And never forget where you came from.
CONGRATULATIONS, CLASS OF 2017."