Read Terri Hemmert’s Elmhurst College Commencement Address

Yesterday was an amazing one for me. Not only did I get to return to my alma mater, Elmhurst College, with a group of family and friends that are my extended family, to receive a Degree Of Humane Letters, but I got to meet Doc Severinsen, who is now Doctor Doc, and I got to address hundreds of amazing young adults who are now going to join the rest of us in the pursuit of a meaningful life. This is what I shared with them……

THANKS TO THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, THE EXCELLENT FACULTY HERE AT ELMHURST COLLEGE, AND PRESIDENT VAN AKEN.
I ALSO WANT TO THANK TWO GENTLEMEN WHO ARE GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, DOCTOR DONALD LOW, MY FACULTY ADVISOR AND CHAIR OF THE SPEECH DEPARTMENT, AND ERWIN GOEBEL, FROM THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES WHEN I WAS A STUDENT HERE AT ELMHURST.
THANKS AND CONGRATULATIONS TO “DOCTOR DOC” SEVERINSEN, WHO HAS BEEN SO GENEROUS TO OUR FINE E.C. JAZZ MUSICIANS WITH HIS TIME AND TALENTS.
THANKS TO MY BELOVED FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO JOIN US HERE TODAY.
AND THANKS FOR THE HONOR OF ADDRESSING THE CLASS OF 2017. GO BLUEJAYS.
IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN I WAS TOLD I’D BE GETTING A CALL FROM THE PRESIDENT OF MY ALMA MATER.
MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS THAT IT WAS A HIGH POWERED FUND RAISING EVENT.
THEN THE CATHOLIC GUILT WORKED IT’S MAGIC AND I THOUGHT THEY WERE PUTTING ME BACK ON THE ACADEMIC PROBATION LIST.
THE LAST THING IN THE WORLD I IMAGINED WAS THAT THEY WERE OFFERING ME THIS HONORARY DOCTORATE.
AS LIN BREHMER, MY DEAR FRIEND AND MORNING DJ ON XRT SAID, “THEY DON’T GIVE DOCTORATES TO DISC JOCKEYS.”
WELL, APPARENTLY THEY DO. BUT THAT’S ONE OF THE THINGS I’VE ALWAYS LOVED ABOUT THIS SCHOOL.
THEY THINK WITH THEIR HEAD AND THEIR HEART. THEY GAVE ME A CHANCE AND IT WORKED OUT PRETTY GOOD.
MY DREAM WAS TO BE A DISC JOCKEY SO I COULD SURROUND MY LIFE WITH MUSIC AND POSSIBLY MEET THE BEATLES.
I DIDN’T NEED A COLLEGE DEGREE TO BE A D.J., BUT I KNOW THAT IF IT WASN’T FOR THE FOUR YEARS I LIVED HERE, I WOULD NOT HAVE SUCCEEDED.
AND NOT JUST IN MY CAREER. AND NOT JUST AS A PERSON WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO HELP TEAR DOWN BARRIERS FOR WOMEN IN OUR CULTURE,
BUT AS A PERSON WHO HAS FAITH THAT WE CAN MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE.
IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO SHARE THIS DAY WITH YOU. THIS IS A VERY SPECIAL OCCASION THAT HONORS THE WORK YOU’VE DONE AND SENDS YOU OFF INTO YOUR ADULT LIFE.
I DON’T REMEMBER MY COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER OR ANYTHING THAT WAS SAID. WHAT I DO REMEMBER ARE THE PEOPLE I GRADUATED WITH AND MY FAMILY THAT CAME TO CELEBRATE WITH ME.
I REMEMBER FEELING RELIEVED THAT I WAS ACTUALLY GRADUATING, TERRIFIED ABOUT STARTING MY SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE RADIO CAREER, AND SAD TO BE LEAVING THESE PRECIOUS FRIENDS AND THIS CAMPUS.
MY HEART WAS READY TO EXPLODE WITH EMOTION.
THERE WERE FIVE PEOPLE I REMEMBER VIVIDLY FROM THAT DAY.
MY PARENTS, BETTY AND FRITZ,
MY ADORABLE SISTERS JULIE AND JONI, 3RD AND 4TH GRADERS AT THE TIME,
AND ONE OF MY DEAREST COLLEGE FRIENDS THAT I MET THE FIRST NIGHT OF FRESHMAN ORIENTATION, CAROL.
MY CLASS GRADUATED JUST A FEW WEEKS AFTER FOUR COLLEGE STUDENTS WERE MURDERED AT AN ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATION AT KENT STATE UNIVERSITY.
WE WERE ALL STILL IN SHOCK.
IF IT HAPPENED AT KENT STATE IT COULD HAPPEN ANYWHERE.
CAROL WAS PASSING OUT PEACE ARM BANDS BEFORE THE CEREMONY. SHE ASKED IF I WANTED ONE, AND I ASKED IF SHE’D TIE IT ON MY ARM OVER MY GRADUATION GOWN. SHE DID, PATTED ME ON MY ARM AND ASKED IF I STILL LOVED HER. OF COURSE. I’D LOVE HER TILL THE DAY I DIE.
MY DAD CAME UP WITH THE BEST LINE OF THE DAY. MY SISTERS WERE WELL AWARE THAT THEIR BIG SISTER CAME THIS CLOSE TO FLUNKING OUT AND TWO YEARS LATER ACTUALLY MADE IT ON TO THE DEANS LIST.
AFTER THE CEREMONY, JONI ASKED WHY THEY DIDN’T SAY “WITH HONORS” AFTER MY NAME.
DAD SAID “HONEY, YOU DON’T GET CREDIT FOR A LAST DITCH EFFORT.”
I REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS AS IF THEY HAD HAPPENED A YEAR AGO.
TAKE THIS ALL IN. THE MEMORIES OF THIS SPECIAL PLACE.
THE FRIENDS YOU LOVE THAT YOU’VE LIVED WITH.
THE PEOPLE THAT SHOWED UP TODAY TO HONOR YOUR ACHIEVEMENT.
THE PEOPLE THAT PAID FOR IT.
BUT LIVE IN THIS MOMENT. SAVOR IT.
THOSE FIVE PEOPLE THAT WERE SO IMPORTANT TO ME ON GRADUATION DAY…ONLY ONE IS STILL ALIVE.
MY PARENTS MADE IT INTO THEIR 60’S AND 80’S.
I NEVER SAW CAROL AGAIN. SHE DIED LESS THAN A YEAR LATER.
JONI DIED WHEN SHE WAS 19, WHEN SHE WAS A SOPHOMORE IN COLLEGE.
MY PRECIOUS SISTER JULIE IS STILL WITH US, AND SHE CAME TODAY FROM CINCINNATI WITH HER HUSBAND.
AND CAROL’S FATHER, SISTER AND NEICE ARE HERE TO HONOR THE PERSON SHE WAS AND CELEBRATE HOW SHE STILL IMPACTS ALL OF OUR LIVES.
TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED.
TAKE NO ONE FOR GRANTED.
AS THE GREAT LOU REED ONCE WROTE ABOUT OUR LIVES, HE CALLED IT MAGIC AND LOSS.
WHEN THEY TOLD ME I NEEDED A TITLE FOR THIS SPEECH I FREAKED. EVEN AS A SPEECH MAJOR I NEVER HAD TO TITLE A SPEECH.
LAST TIME I DID WAS FRESHMAN YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL WHERE IN OUR SPEECH CLASSES WE USED THE TITLE AS AN INTRODUCTION. ONE DAY I SPOKE ABOUT LIFE IN THE PEACE CORPSE.
I’M NOT MAKING THAT UP. I CAN STILL HEAR THE DERISIVE LAUGHER OF MY PEERS.
SO I GOT ON THE RADIO AND ASKED FOR A TITLE. I’D TAKE THE WINNER TO LUNCH.
I GOT A LOT OF BEATLE SONG TITLES AND LYRICS. I DON’T WANT TO BE THAT PREDICTABLE.
I WAS STILL GOING BY MY WORKING TITLE OF W.T.F.
THE DAY BEFORE THE TITLE WAS DUE I WAS READING ABOUT POPE FRANCIS GIVING A TED TALK, AND ONE OF HIS THEMES WAS A NEED FOR A REVOLUTION OF TENDERNESS.
IT WAS A MIRACLE. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT.
I WAS A STUDENT HERE FROM 1966 TO 1970. TURBULENT TIMES.
MY MOTHER ONCE SAID SHE FELT BAD ABOUT THE TIMING BECAUSE I SHOULD BE HAVING FUN IN COLLEGE.
I TOLD HER NOT TO WORRY. I WAS HAVING PLENTY OF FUN. JUST ASK PAM, MY ROOMMATE FOR TWO YEARS. RIGHT PAM?
YES WE HAD FUN.
BUT IT WAS ON THIS MALL THAT WE TOOK TURNS READING THE NAMES OF SOLDIERS KILLED IN VIET NAM.
IT WAS IN SCHICK HALL THE NIGHT DOCTOR MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR WAS ASSASINATED THAT I STAYED UP ALL NIGHT AND WITNESSED THE SHOCK, GRIEF AND FEAR EXPRESSED WITH PASSION BY MY FRIENDS.
FOR ONCE I JUST SHUT UP AND LISTENED. IT WAS THE FIRST NIGHT I REALLY WENT TO SCHOOL. I LEARNED SOMETHING.
WE LIVED IN WHAT WE CALLED “INTERESTING TIMES”. AND SO DO YOU.
YOU CHOSE TO ATTEND A SCHOOL AFFILIATED WITH THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST. YOU SIGNED UP FOR AN ETHICS BASED EDUCATION.
NOW TAKE THAT INTO THE WORLD.
THIS IS NOT A HEAD-IN-THE-CLOUDS FANTASY.
YOU MAY SAY I’M A DREAMER, BUT I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE. THERE. I QUOTED A BEATLE.
BUT IT’S TRUE. I KNOW IT FOR A FACT.
THE CAREER SUCCESS STUFF WILL WORK ITSELF OUT,
BUT BEGINNING NOW, NOT WHEN YOU’RE CONSIDERING RETIREMENT, NOW IT’S YOUR JOB TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH YOUR EDUCATION AND TENDERNESS.
SOME IN MY GENERATION WANTED TO CHANGE THE WORLD, FOUND OUT IT WAS REALLY HARD, AND GAVE UP.
I HAVE FOUND THAT YOU CHANGE THE THINGS YOU CAN.
YOU LOOK AT THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE AND ADMIRE AND SEE HOW THEY’VE MADE THEIR WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE.
NOW YOU FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO DO.
TRIAL AND ERROR. HIT AND MISS. BUT DON’T GIVE UP.
TRY STUFF. GET OUT OF YOUR HOUSE. DO SOMETHING. BE PRESENT.
I CAN TELL YOU THAT AT THE END OF THE DAY FOR ME, I DON’T DWELL ON THE AWARDS AND FAN MAIL.
I REFLECT ON THE PEOPLE I’VE HAD THE PRIVILEGE TO HELP THROUGH HIV/AIDS, MOURNING THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE, FACING THEIR OWN MORTALITY, CANCER, ATTEMPTED SUICIDES, RACISM,
ALL KINDS OF ISMS AND PHOBIAS.
AND THESE ARE WORK RELATED ENCOUNTERS.
HOW DOES A DISC JOCKEY FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE AVAILABLE THAT WAY?
I FIGURED IT OUT. I PUT MYSELF OUT THERE.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.
TAKE YOUR EDUCATION AND YOUR LOVE INTO THE WORLD.
YOU’VE READ THE GOSPELS. IT’S A CALL TO ACTION.
IN THESE “INTERESTING TIMES” OF BIGOTRY AND FEAR, YOU NEED TO COMMIT TO A REVOLUTION OF TENDERNESS.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE.
AND TENDERNESS.
AND KINDNESS.
AND COMPASSION.
AND EMPATHY.
AND COURAGE.
AND RESPECT, OR AS WE SAID IN THE 60’S R-E-S-P-E-C-T. THANK YOU OTIS AND ARETHA.
AH. IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO MUSIC FOR ME.
I WAS WRITING RECORD REVIEWS FOR THE ELM BARK, WHEN I CHECKED THE LIST OF NEW RELEASES AND CHOSE TO REVIEW THE NEW BEATLES ALBUM, ABBEY ROAD.
I THOUGHT IT WAS GOOD SO GAVE IT A GLOWING REVIEW.
WE DIDN’T KNOW AT THE TIME THAT THE BEATLES WERE SAYING GOODBYE TO US. AGAIN, TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED.
WE THOUGHT THE BEATLES WOULD STAY TOGETHER FOREVER.
THE LAST LINE OF THE LAST SONG BY THE BEATLES WAS MCCARTNEY SINGING, “AND IN THE END THE LOVE YOU TAKE IS EQUAL TO THE LOVE YOU MAKE.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY.
LET ME CLOSE WITH THE FIRST VERSE OF ONE OF MY FAVORITE SONGS SENIOR YEAR AT ELMHURST. I PLAYED IT ON WRSE TILL THE GROOVES ON THE VINYL WORE OUT.
LET THIS BE YOUR MARCHING ORDERS INTO THE REVOLUTION OF TENDERNESS THAT YOU ARE CALLED TO BY EVERYONE
FROM JESUS CHRIST TO YOUR PROFESSORS,
FROM DOCTOR KING TO YOUR PARENTS,
FROM POPE FRANCIS TO SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE.
STAND. IN THE END YOU’LL STILL BE YOU.
ONE THAT’S DONE ALL OTHE THINGS YOU SET OUT TO DO.
STAND. THERE’S A CROSS FOR YOU TO BEAR. THINGS TO GO THROUGH IF YOU’RE GOING ANYWHERE.
STAND. FOR THE THINGS YOU KNOW ARE RIGHT.
IT’S THE TRUTH THAT THE TRUTH MAKES THEM SO UPTIGHT.
STAND. ALL THE THINGS YOU WANT ARE REAL. YOU HAVE TO COMPLETE AND THERE IS NO DEAL.
STAND. STAND. STAND.
I’LL MEET YOU ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE REVOLUTION OF TENDERNESS.
WE NEED YOU.
GOD BLESS YOU AND GOOD LUCK.


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