Hello, I am speaking from the days of future past or some sort of convoluted shit. Just a couple of minutes ago (or in a couple of minutes), I gave the commencement speech at Fullerton College for its 100th anniversary. On Wednesday, I was also inducted into the Orange Coast College Alumni Hall of Fame. As is my tradition whenever I give speeches, below is the prepared text of each, starting with the OCC one. Unlike real life, I usually don't veer into random wackiness when giving prepared speeches, but do reserve the right. Enjoy!
I've had dozens of T-shirts given to me in my life; almost all of them eventually turn into an oil rag or get tossed in the trash once they get too faded. Only one has withstood the ravages of time.
In my closet is a T-shirt reading "OCC Senior Day 1997." I've kept it all these years, rarely worn and almost new, because it's one of my most valued mementos. For me, it embodies the transformative strengths of Orange Coast College. Before OCC, I was an underachieving nerd; after OCC, I've been nothing but an overachieving nerd. And I credit all of my success to this school, for here is where I learned the value of education and its abilities to not just open doors, but to smash them down. You graduates know I'm not exaggerating or saying nice things, because ustedes are just further proof of OCC's magnificence.
Getting into the Alumni Hall of Fame is the greatest honor I'll ever receive in my life, because of how much I love OCC. I want to thank everyone who made this award possible and give gracias to all the amazing professors I had in my two years here. But a special thanks to Cheryl Jupiter, director of the Transfer Center. When I first entered OCC, I had no idea what to do or where I was going in life. In just a couple of her workshops, Cheryl taught me the Pirate way that has led me here today, and will lead all of ustedes to similar success. Gracias everyone, God bless, go get 'em, graduates, go Coast–and can someone buy me a new OCC T-shirt?
And now, FJC:
Gracias, Fullerton College for having me. I'm especially touched that I've been invited to be the commencement speaker for your 100th anniversary–because I really don't deserve it. This isn't false humility on my part, because I really, truly don't deserve this honor. See, I am your prodigal son, and I'm just lucky that you let me come back to mama.
Let me explain. I was born and raised in Anaheim, just on the other side of the 91 Freeway. But most of the cherished memories from my teenage years revolve around Fullas. Sneaking into various movies at the AMC 10 Theater, which of course, is now the 20. Getting a bunch of free food at Price Club, which is now Sam's Club. Late-night runs after work to Taquería de Anda down the street from the DMV. Many bad dates at Hillcrest Park. Football games in this very stadium, where my beloved Anaheim High Colonists would get their butts handed to them by the Fullerton Indians year after year after year.
And in the background of all this was Fullerton College. The bridge that spans Chapman Avenue always fascinated me, along with the school's gorgeous architecture. I was a nerd back then–hell, I'm still a nerd–so I always loved to go on campus and hear speakers, see art shows, check out a play. My older cousins and friends came here to get their AA degree or to get enough credit to transfer to a four-year university, just like ustedes graduates today.
So when it was time for me to enroll in a community college after high school, what did I do? I rejected Fullerton College.
The ostensible reason was that FJC didn't have a film program, so I went to Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa instead. But even if I didn't have plans to be a movie director back then, I still wouldn't have attended Fullerton College. I didn't want to do the same thing like everyone else–I wanted to be the outlier, the rebel, Thoreau's different drummer. And so I departed to OCC and never looked back, never thinking I'd ever have anything to do with Fullerton College again.
But a funny thing happened as I went through my career: what I had once rejected became an important part of my life. Various FJC professors began teaching my articles and inviting me to their classes, none more often than the legendary profe Jerry Padilla, who taught my brother and sister and remains one of the most brilliant, touching, hilarious professors I've ever met. In 2010, ustedes picked my book, Orange County: A Personal History, as part of the One Book, One College program. I've had Hornets as interns and freelancers for us at OC Weekly, and professor Jesse La Tour has been a valued friend and source of mine on various OC history mysteries.
And here I am before ustedes, giving your commencement address for your 100th anniversary. Again, I am not worthy…okay, I am. Because in the short story that I just told, there's an important lesson for ustedes to remember as you go onto the next step of your life: Don't be afraid to leave what you love if you can better yourself in the process.
Family, friends, places, memories–they're wonderful, necessary things, but they too often hold back people from achieving their full potential. I've known far too many friends, brilliant friends, who stagnated because the opportunities that would've launched them to the next level meant they had to go off the comfortable path–and they were too scared to do it. Don't be one of them. I wasn't. If I had gone to Fullerton College instead of OCC, I wouldn't have been in a film program that later on would've accepted me to Chapman University. If I hadn't gone to Chapman University, I wouldn't have gone to UCLA, without UCLA, probably would've never discovered the OC Weekly. And without the OC Weekly, I probably wouldn't be here standing before ustedes today.
Would I have been successful graduating from FJC? Damn straight–this school creates winners. But by pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I ensured that I'd go through an unfamiliar road that constantly challenged me, that only made me stronger and smarter than if I had stayed with the tried-and-true. The journey was tough at times, but it forced me to learn fast, to rely solely on true amigos, to be completely honest with who I was and what I wanted in life. No crutches, no fallbacks: just me, my supporter system, and the road ahead.
Besides, leaving what you love doesn't mean abandoning it. Because, if you truly care, you will come back with new tools to help ensure its success–in fact, it's your mandate. I like to think that I'm more useful to the Fullerton College familia having not attended. Now, I'm able to come back and tell ustedes about what I've seen, and help the school and yourselves make this world a better place.
So as ustedes leave, please do zoom out of here, like the Hornets that serve as your mascot. Go far and wide, with no regret. Always move forward–but make it your mission to return with something to offer. Because the only sin you can commit if you do choose to be among the bold and leave comfort behind is to forget who made you–other than that, your peers and mentors want you to go, go far.
Gracias, and God bless.