Per Scholas Keynote Speaker
Today the class of Cycle 11 at Per Scholas graduated and I was honored to be their keynote speaker. Per Scholas is a national non-profit organization based in New York City. Founded in 1994, they offer proven high-quality development opportunities to people in low-income, urban communities. Today, 18 young students finished their first chapter in this new adventure. I truly wish that something like this existed to help me build my foundation when I first started out. I shared my background and some tips for success with the students. Below is an abbreviated version of my speech, broken down into bite-size bits of information.
- My name is Kennedy and I am happy to be here today with you on this special occasion. I want to talk a little about where I come from and how I got to where I am today. I am from a very underprivileged family. Now I live in Manhattan with a view of the entire city.
- I barely graduated high school and never received a higher education. I want you to keep something in mind as I go on: I am 100% self-taught.
- I have been getting paid as a professional designer for more than 5 years. Most recently I was working for Google as an interactive designer, and I just launched my own creative studio where I design and build apps.
- It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you start today.
- Don’t think too much about where to start. Just do it.
- Graduating today is a huge step in the right direction for you. You were not required to come here and learn, you choose to do so. That's huge.
- You don't have to do the same job for the rest of your life, just do something interesting that pays until you can figure out what you want to do.
- Stay focused and avoid distractions.
- If you have trouble staying focused, set a schedule and stick to it. You will hate your life and you will throw fits for your freedom, but you will thank yourself later.
- Break large goals into smaller goals.
- Find what drives you in life. For me, my biggest fear was ending up where I started. I am working my ass off to get far away from where I came from. Once I left my house, I ran-- and kept running-- and never looked back.
Choosing a path
- When I first started out in life, I had no clue what I wanted to be or do. I have been a dishwasher, lawn mower, server, bartender, cook, security guard, ocean rescue (lifeguard on the beach), EMT at an ER, Airplane mechanic while in the Air Force, barista, teacher, developer, designer, and have held about 20 other odds jobs here and there.
- You are not alone. Most people are in the same boat.
- For the longest time I asked myself, “What do I want to do?”. I found out later that I was asking the wrong question. What I should have asked myself is, “What will people pay me the most to do?” or “What pays the most and is in my skill set?”
3 key reasons for your success
Continuing your education
There are a ton of free classes online from top schools such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. Read everything. I read about 10 new articles on the web each day and I probably own more than 200 books. I buy about 2 new books each month.
Be a hard worker
I am the hardest worker out there. I will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Nothing is beneath me. I will clean the bathrooms with my own toothbrush if I have to. While you are watching TV, I am educating myself or working on a side project.
Don’t network, build real relationships. Remember peoples’ names and what they do. Don't just collect business cards. Always help others and expect nothing in return.
- Never worry about the past and don't let it drag you down. Look forward and stay focused.
- Exercise or stretch daily. This does a lot for the mind and body that you won’t understand until you stop doing it.
- Your body is a machine: what you put in it will be what you get out of it.
- As an adult you have no one to blame from this point on besides yourself. No more excuses about why you are not the man or woman you want to be.
- Having trouble sleeping? Go read a book or do something to educate yourself. It takes a lot of effort to learn new things. Your brain will get tired and you’ll easily fall asleep.
- It’s okay to fail. It’s actually a good thing. You only become a failure when you learn why you failed in the first place and do nothing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
- Avoid non-contact social interactions while working. For example, don’t check your phone every 5 minutes. Nothing is that important and it makes you look like you don’t care about your job.
- Time is your most valuable asset: once you spend it, you can never earn more of it. Most importantly, don’t let others spend it for you.
- Show up 15 minutes early everywhere you go. This will give you time to get caught up on all the small things you have to do throughout the day. Also, do you honestly think your time is worth more than other people’s? Don’t spend their time by making them wait for you.
- Money doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness. It does take a lot of stress away. It really buys you freedom to do whatever you want.
- If you want to be hired for something and don’t have that skill, be honest. I would much rather hire someone with no skill than a person with no passion. Most people love teaching others their craft. It’s their way of giving back.
- Trust your gut and train it. Your gut reaction is based on experience and knowledge. The more you learn and do, the better your gut will be.
- There are a lot of shitty people out there. If the people around you are negative, cut them out of your life. Surround yourself with positive people that are moving forward.
- Don’t worry about what other people think of you. One of my biggest issues in life is that I have always felt alone in whatever I was doing. Especially in the entrepreneur world. I recently had the chance to ask Marc Ecko (fashion designer) if he ever feels alone. He said “Of course I do, welcome to trying to do shit differently”.</li>
- The last thing I want to leave you with is that pain is temporary. If you have something shitty happening in your life, maybe you think it’s not even worth living. Trust me when I say it will pass. You must face that life just fucking sucks sometimes. If you work hard enough, you can start to avoid shitty situations. Remember that pain is only temporary.
Thanks again, Per Scholas, for having me as your guest. I would like to congratulate and welcome the recent graduates on their new journey. Please feel free to reach out to me anytime.