20 June 2016, Burlington, Vermont,. USA
When I was preparing for this, I realise I had done a lot of talks. I'd even done a few keynotes speeches, but I thought this is special, this is different. I'm not talking to a bunch of musicians. I have to really be on my game, so I actually wrote a speech, first time ever in my life I wrote one. Until I had breakfast with Matt, and in talking to him I realised writing and saying speeches is not what I do. I just like to talk, and I like to play, so this won't quite be a commencement speech. It'll be a commencement talk. Is that all right?
As Matt said, I played music most of my whole life. I was born into it, and it's true. I've gotten a lot of awards. I've been praised. I say that anybody born in my situation would be just as good. I don't really look at that. I appreciate the fact that people love what I do because I would do it anyway, but the fact that my peers love it is a bonus, but as my parents always said, they weren't so concerned about what we did, but they were concerned with who we are, who we were as people. If what we did didn't make us better people and make those around us better people, they questioned whether it was worth doing.
When we were little kids and was getting awards, things like that, and getting praised because we were young when we were doing a lot of these cool things, and people always credit the parents and things. My parents will say "Well, as much as they play they should be good. We don't care about that. Who wouldn't be good, right? But it's who they are as people is what we're concerned at[inaudible 00:03:46]."
I want to start with a quote that my mom would always say to us boys. They would ask the five of us, they would say, "What does the world need with just another good musician?" Mom would say, "We have plenty. What the world need is good people." They would say if we're going to spend all these hours in the practise room, all this time at school studying, don't stop doing it just make sure it's making you good people.
I'd asked you the same thing. What does the world need with just another Rubenstein graduate? There's been over 4,000, right? What the world needs are good people. What the world needs is you, right? When you were born and everybody here knows what it took to become born, I don't have to go through that, right? But if you realise, we've already won the most amazing race we will ever win, the most amazing race we will ever enter into. We've already won it. We're already born special. We're born winners.
You have a fingerprint that's never been here on the planet in the existence of the history of humankind. Your fingerprint has never been here and will never be here again. That's special. Cool thing is no one can take that away from you. Your job is to improve on that specialness and present it to the world. Now we present it to the world by what we do, but it always comes back to who you are, how you relate to people because when you leave here believe it or not the people more than likely you're going to associate with some of them are sitting right next to you, so it's how they see you today might determine how they see you tomorrow.
In your journeys as you leave here, this is a happy moment, but all the moments that come forth may not be that happy. The bad things will happen in life, but I want you to look it maybe in a different way. When bad things happen in life, they jump out at us, they grab us, they grab our attention. The press and the world would make us think that everything is bad, but the bad things jump out at us because they're not normal, right? We have to remember that the world is a beautiful place and we are beautiful people.
Because the bad things jump out at us, that is proof. This is kind of hard to do and play at the same time. But because the bad things jump out at us, you think about the news. Think about this. Let me put it this way. I just drove in from Boston last night, and I drove into Burlington. Just imagine, I'm going to make up a story, imagine that three people cut me off as soon as I get into Burlington. What do I do? I do what everybody does. I curse the whole city.
I say, "None of these people in Burlington can drive," when it was only three. Those three stand out because the thousands of others did it right, but we don't bless the ones that do it right. We forget about them because it's normal. It may be up to us to remind the world of what it really is. I love the fact that I get to speak to you because I'm usually speaking to musicians that know nothing about the outdoors and to me you guys are the liaison. You are like nature's voice. You are the ones that are speaking to us that don't listen, that don't hear nature. Maybe we'll listen to you.
Many of us won't speak back to nature, but you will. You are that middle ground, and I appreciate and thank you for doing what you do. When I was younger in the early nineties, I read a book by a man named Tom Brown, Jr. The book changed my life, changed my viewpoint I would say, so I went to go take a class with Tom Brown. I didn't know what this nature thing was about. At least I didn't think I did.
Tom Brown started talking about awareness, wide angle vision and tracking. Tom was drawing tracks on the board, and he showing me about the gates, and he was drawing these little circles. In my mind because I was thinking musical, I took these little tracks and put little stems on them. In my mind I made them into musical notes. It made sense right away. It was that time that I realised that for me music and nature were the same thing.
To me nature, what you guys are doing, is the bridge between all of life. Back then and not long after, a few years after that I started running a musical camp where we combined music and nature. It literally is changing people's lives, literally is changing people's lives. I'm saying that not to talk about me but to say that that's what your world is. You get to change people's lives in a good way.
I've been working with a man named Bela Fleck for over 20 years. I learned a lot about leadership from him. I always felt that music is a good way to address the world's issues. The best bands I've ever played in all the instruments were different. We don't curse those differences. We bless them. That's why I think the whole world should learn to play music. Then we might understand that differences are a blessing, not a curse.
Bela Fleck always said that he was a leader among equals. Even though the band had his name in it twice, he still treated us as equals. Whenever he would bring a new song to the table, he would never tell us what to play. He would just play his part and allow us to hear the song fresh. Bela recognised that I would probably come up with a better bass part than him. I've never written a banjo part for him, so he would let me hear the song and come up with my own part.
As simple as that was, I realised that's the way to lead. He lead in a way that brought out the best in us. If he had just told us what to play, he would have gotten his idea across, but I wouldn't have grown from it as much. As you guys go out and become world leaders, which many of you will, lead in a way that brings out the best in people and be a leader among equals.
Just a couple of ideas to leave with you. You're going to need a lot of guts to get out there and do what you do. For some of you when I was getting an explanation of what a lot of you are going to be doing after you graduate, a lot of your jobs I would say are a thankless job. You won't get the awards that I've gotten for just plucking on some strings, but I hope you are like me and not do your jobs for awards but to do it because it's right because that's what the world needs.
My aunt told me a story recently when she was at my house for a family reunion. Back in the seventies, we were all young. Actually I'm sorry, in the eighties. My aunt said my mom was up pacing in the middle of the night, and she asked my mom what was going on. My mom was agitated. She said my mom said, "All my friends are getting on me because I didn't go see my son's play at the coliseum, and they think 'Well, you don't care about your son.'" She said, "I don't need to see them. I know my sons. I've been knowing them my whole life. I've been seeing them play everyday. I don't need to go see them at the coliseum."
She said, "My friends think my sons are special because they play at the coliseum." The thing I didn't say is at this family reunion we had probably 60 people. One of my brothers was sleeping under the kitchen table. Another one was in the chair. Another one was sleeping in the garage. My mom said, "I don't care that they're getting awards and the fact that they're playing at the coliseum." She said, "I care about the fact that they'll play at the coliseum and then come home and sleep on the floor."
If my mom was here right now, she'd say, "That's what I'm talking about." It's who you are as people. You bring who you are to what you do. You going to have to get creative. You guys are the future and a lot of what you're going to need to do hadn't even been invented yet. I'm just going to pose one idea about creativity and inspiration. A lot of times when you get inspired you get creative. You feel a certain way. It's like being happy. There's a tingle. For me my body starts to tingle.
I say the next time it happens you feel creative or maybe like today, remember this feeling, put it in a data bank somewhere and remembers what it feels like because one of the things I have learned to do through a lot of training with people like Matt and my other nature friends I've learned the creative process, the inspiration process in reverse. When I need an idea, I create the feeling. I remember what inspiration feels like, and I can create the feeling and the inspiration arrives. It shows up, so practise it. It might work.
In parting I just want you to imagine that as a graduation gift each of you was awarded $36,525. Not bad, but here's the catch, you're not going to get anymore for the rest of your lives. Think about it, $36,525. You have cash, but you're not getting anymore. Thank about it. How would you treat that money? How would you handle it? I'm sure some of you would take very good care of it, spend it wisely, spend it on things that mattered, maybe invest, give to people in need, $36,525.
Well, if you lived to be 100, if you lived to be a hundred, that's 36,525 days including leap years. A dollar a day and you can probably not buy a house. That's if you live to be a hundred. If you're a male, cut off a bunch of years. If you're a person of colour, cut off a bunch more years. First few years of your life you don't even make your own decisions. They tell us to sleep eight hours a day. That's a year every three years. Time spent playing Candy Crush. How many days are actually left?
There's a saying that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. The best time to start living your life was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. The world is in the palm of your hands. You can create whatever you want. I just say do it wisely and do it with others in your mind. Because when you include others as yourself, then it's okay to be selfish.
My name is Victor Wooten, and I congratulate you guys. I thank you in advance for all the beautiful work you're going to do.
What does the world need with just another musician? What the world needs is good people. Thank you Mom. When the going gets tough, that's a positive signal to keep charging. Thank you Daddy. Thank you all. Thank you all. Y'all are graduates. I love you. Thank you very much.