Commencement speech for the Arts Institute of Charleston

June 15, 2018

The fine folks at the Arts Institute of Charleston asked me to be the commencement speaker for the 2018 graduating class. I’ve never done that before, so it was an honor to grace the stage and meet the scholars.

The unedited speech is below. I also recorded it, and will put that up at a later date:

Ah, yes. I’m so honored to be here among this graduating class. I know it’s been a fun, crazy,
wild, confusing, relaxing, eye-opening and beautiful ride to this point in your life. I’m very, very
proud of you and very excited to share this experience with you.
I’m assuming the esteemed staff of the Arts Institute chose me to speak because of my
masterpiece – the song “big butt,” which was recorded when I was 10 years old.
You all have heard “big butt,” right? It won 28 Grammy’s. “big butt” is an
endearing message of hope and perseverance. I’ll send a download link to anyone who wants

“big butt” started off a career that has lead me to be a full-time artist. I’m very proud of the fact
that I can call myself an artist. I, like you, have probably heard the negativity. “You won’t get
paid a lot of money as an artist! You can’t get paid to write poetry! You can’t be a full-time
graphic designer and take naps everyday! You can’t write songs about pancakes and obsess
over Star Wars while making a living! Good luck, bruh!”

Well, I stand before you as a full-time, money making, pancake-eating, karaoke-singing, booty
shaking, award-winning, Star Wars watching artist. And I am able to make my mortgage, pay
my bills, buy expensive cocktails, eat fancy cheese … And most importantly, take a nap

You can do this, too. Why? Because you have been a part of a beautiful and intentional
institution. The Arts Institute knows that the foundation of life is … art. The fabric of who we are
is beauty, creativity, LOVE. The Arts Institute has helped you understand that being a full-time
artist and pursuing your passion is the BEST thing that you can do. I’m friends with some of
the professors, I’ve done poetry shows at your campus, I’ve marveled at the curriculum. I love
the institute, and you should feel lucky that you have been a part of an experience like this.
I’m going to be real with you. I am not a conventional person. I don’t do things like other
people do them. My gear never shifts to grind. I am very selfish with my time, but I get things
done. You dig? When I was named Poet Laureate of Charleston, I was very proud of the city for
taking a chance on a nappy headed awkward Prince-obsessed hipster. When I got the job of
being the lead graphic designer for a national music magazine, I thought to myself “Is this
client going to be ok with the fact that I take naps everyday?”

Well, I have three points that I’d like to give you. These three things have gotten me to where I
am, and have helped me on this crazy journey of being an artist in Charleston. This isn’t for
everyone, but I think it could help you along the way.

Point number 1: take a nap everyday. I’m serious. Studies have shown that naps are healthy
and rejuvenating. I literally schedule naps on my phone. It’s important to take
time out for yourself. To slow down. We feel like we have to always go, go, go. To be the
person working, working, working to get ahead. I’m concerned with your well-being. What
good are you to a client if you are exhausted? How creative can you be when your energy level
is low? TAKE A NAP. I’ll be napping after this speech! No joke.

Point number 2 has a few levels: do things for yourself and don’t share EVERYTHING.
Make sure that the motivation for whatever you are creating – a poster, a poem, a song, an idea
– is coming from a place of honesty and not for likes. I totally get the pressure and adrenaline
rush of posting something online and getting hundreds of likes. That’s great when it happens.
But when your only motivation is for likes? That’s unhealthy. That’s not why you should be
doing what you are doing.

I have many songs, poems and designs that I don’t share with anyone. Are there any Prince
fans here? Prince had a vault of thousands of unreleased songs. He was ALWAYS creating,
and only shared the best of his work. That’s why he’s considered one of our greatest artists –
he was able to create for HIMSELF. We were always in his world. There was a mystery about
him that I think is lost on many of today’s artists. He kept things to himself and only shared
what was best. You can do the same.

Point number 3: work on your relationships. Relationships are more important than a check.
There are better graphic designers and web designers than me. There are better poets than
me, there are better videographers than me. But all of the talent in the world doesn’t guarantee
a client. You’ve got to be friends with these people. Treat them like a friend. Take them out to
lunch, buy them a drink (if you are old enough), talk to them about their family, their fears. Talk
about more than your work. Get to know someone.

If you are working for someone, don’t treat your co-workers like aliens. They are in your life for
a reason. Schedule bonding sessions with co-workers – play basketball together, go on bike
rides. Realize that we are all in this together. You’ll end up learning something about each other
and yourself in the process …. And work will be better
That way, even if the work doesn’t go well, you still have a friend. No hard feelings.
93.7% of the work that I’ve received has come from word of mouth. I do work for a client and
they tell their friend – “Hey, this nappy headed awkward Prince-obsessed hipster is a talented
guy and he’s fun to work with. You should call him for a website!”

Charleston is a great place to be, because this city has a very strong community of artists and
nonprofits. I encourage all of you to network, take internships, ask “experts” out to lunch and
learn about this city. Believe in yourself, because you have so much to offer this community.
I’d love to see you out at events like Creative Mornings and Pecha Kucha. You
should reach out to Lowcountry Local First to meet other creatives. Volunteer for Charleston
Moves or Charleston Jazz. Be an advocate for your city. Take naps.

So, I guess you can’t have the poet laureate speak to you without saying a poem, right? (performs poem)