Monday, July 7, 2014

Churchill Commencement Speech 2014

Well thank you all so much for having me. It is such a huge honor for me to be standing here as your very first alumni graduation speaker. I want to sincerely thank Mrs. Perrett for the offer, and Dr. Benz for accepting.

Graduation is a time when you feel all sorts of emotion. Some of you may be wondering how you’re even graduating in the first place. For those folks, I can assure you - your teachers are wondering the same thing.

But just remember, we the best:

“DJ Kahled’s All I Do Is Win”

Just 7 years ago, I was sitting exactly where you all are today. So although I know some of you are scared of what comes next, I can tell you from my experience that you should not be.

Why? Because if I can do it, so can you.   

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children. At the time, I was one of only 25 kids in the country with that disease. Years later when I was 21, doctors found a rare heart condition known as WPW. The doctors deemed my condition to be a "special case" because only a very small percentage of people, with that rare condition, develop symptoms at such a young age.  And last year, at 23 years old, I found myself back in the hospital after doctors discovered that my heart condition resurfaced - a recurrence of that disease after treatment occurs in less than 1% of patients.

In each of these situations, whether it was with my diagnosis or with the surgeries that followed, I was that rare anomaly you hear about in the brochures. I was that “special case”.

So, when my doctor told me that laughter was the best, and quite frankly, the only medicine I needed, I realized that I should have seen a real doctor instead of Dr. Dre.

Anyway, I’ve been through a lot. But through all of that, I’ve learned 2 important lessons.    

First, I've learned that the best way to help myself is to help others. 

I remember a doctor once came into the hospital room, where 10 other kids were getting chemo alongside me. The doctor took time out of his small lunch break to dress up as a clown, go around to each of our beds, and perform some small magic tricks to distract us from the pain. And that's precisely the moment I became inspired to give back. So today, I now perform charity magic shows, and try to give back every second I can.   

The take-away: I’ve learned that the only way to truly guarantee success in life is to be extremely kind, extremely generous, and extremely humble. If you all do this, even if success doesn’t come right away, I can promise you that it will come.

Because in the end, good things always happen to good people. You just have to wait for that golden ticket.

In my life, it took me 7 years to get my golden ticket. But because I worked hard, because I stayed humble and generous, and because I was patient, I now have my dream job, and get to work in a place that I really love.

Second, I've learned to have a positive attitude no matter what I’m going through. 

During my first chemotherapy session, I remember feeling really down about myself and the situation I was in. I looked at all my friends and classmates, and thought to myself, "Why can't I be like them? It's just not fair. I don’t think I can do this."

But as soon as I turned my head and looked around the hospital room, every other child there was not only younger than me, but they each had harsher treatments, and for longer periods of time. Then it hit me. 

"Wow, I am the luckiest kid in this hospital."

The takeaway: if you ever think that you can’t do something, if you ever think you’re not good enough, not capable enough, or not smart enough, please trust me when I tell you that you can do anything. I’ve literally been one breath away from death, 3 times before hitting the age of 25. But look at me now. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I have the privilege of speaking to you all today.  

Of course, there are still moments where I lose my positivity. Things can get to the best of us all. But these days, whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I do what any self-respecting, 24 year old, healthy, good looking guy would do...I get in my car, roll the windows down, and blast some of that Frozen “Let It Go” music. Hey, I just can’t hold it back anymore.

But please, just remember to not let the struggles of today get in the way of the potential of tomorrow.

Now, I want to end with a quote by the late and great Nelson Mandela.

But first, let me take a selfie.

Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived it. It is the difference we have made, to the lives of others, that will determine the significance of the lives we lead today.”

So, graduating class of 2014, please think about the lives you are all going to lead once you step out those doors today.

Because if you lead it right, you never know what great things can happen – and maybe even one day, you’ll find yourself lucky enough to get invited to be the commencement speaker at your high school’s graduation.

Thanks so much!

*Thanks to Churchill High School for the video