Chocolate University

Shawn’s Commencement Speech – University of Missouri – Honors College

[Find original Facebook post here] I have a housekeeping matter before I begin . . . [take selfie from the stage with graduates in background]. Don’t worry I’ve read Kim Kardashian’s book on selfies appropriately titled “Selfish”.

We hear Commencement speakers routinely proclaim from podiums like this: “Follow your dreams” . . . .

Law school was my dream for most of my young life, especially after my dad’s death when I was 14, he’d been a lawyer . . . I recall the day, Fall semester my senior year, I received my LSAT scores in the mail here on campus. (Let’s just go ahead and say that I was not an honors college student). I opened the envelope and turned the letter upside down because I thought they’d made a mistake. I thought the numbers had been transposed.  . . . . .  I was devastated – crushed (way way worse than when Rory Gilmore did not get the Reston Fellowship at the New York Times).

Many of you may not have a dream to follow. You have distinguished yourselves academically. You’ve not really had time to dream? So now what are you going to do? Settle and accept lifelong anxiety and depression? You could do what I did; eventually end up taking Lexapro. Antidepressants are OK for awhile but not forever. So then, what to do?

I think we should substitute the word dream with vocation. Vocation is a better word. Your Vocation is the intersection of your talents, what the world needs, and your passion.

Rejection from 11 law schools was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. Taking a job in the real estate business in Dallas/Ft Worth was not my dream. Not even close to my dream. But – It WAS a job.

Vocation begins with knowing your talents. It’s very likely that you don’t know what your’s are. How could you? So step #1 is get a job and work, pay bills and live life. Give yourself a break for not having it all figured out, for not knowing your vocation. Your job is to WORK on developing your vocation.

Step #2 – while working at your job (which might not be your dream job – whatever that means) become a student – AGAIN – of what the world needs. You probably don’t know that now – it would not really be possible. Live a life learning the needs of the world and your community.

Step #3 – what about passion? My vocation results where my passion will intersect with my talents and the needs of the world. You say “I don’t know what my passion is”? Well – how could you? It would be very unusual at 21 to know this.

By the way, you can’t google your way into finding your passion (I tried) and Siri is of no help either.

Gandhi said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Jesus said something similar, “take up your cross and follow me.” They’re both saying, “die to self.”

This is not a weekend “peak experience” in which you’ll emerge on Sunday after encountering a burning bush, walk down from the mountain and proclaim the new path of your life.

Here’s my example. I worked really hard for 3 years post law school dream crushing and then re-applied here at Mizzou. Then recent law school graduate Bob Selsor and Dean Bob Bailey got me in. I was a criminal defense lawyer for nearly 20 years. I loved it but then I had to do something else. I needed a new vocation. But – I did not know what. No idea. I had worked long enough to know my talents. I’d spent a two decades learning some needs of the world. I needed a new passion. Not a double dose of Lexapro.

So I am going to tell you my secret. Maybe you can use this paradox in your life. As a lawyer – still trying cases but desperately searching for a new path – I started volunteering in the palliative care department at Mercy hospital in Springfield. I usually went on Fridays. The director of the program gave me a list of patients who’d asked for a visit – most of whom were at the end of life in some stage of dying. The patients were all over the hospital – ICU, Neuro, Cardiac, Oncology. I would talk to them about their younger days, their work, family, pie recipes – whatever they wanted. I would end my visit by asking if they’d like me to pray for them? I was not there to “win souls” or make a spiritual cold call. Most patients who are in some stage of dying will take a prayer if offered. But the conversation deepened . . . with the simple question: “what would you like me to pray for?” I listened and I prayed whatever they asked. Some wanted to live two more weeks to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, some wanted relief from pain, some wanted healing, some wanted family restoration . . . I prayed their prayer. I would often ask them if I could hold their hand or touch their arm while I said my prayer. Lets face it — we spend most of our days thinking of  . . . well  . . . us . . . we think about ourselves . . . a lot. I know I do. Those were some of the few moments, really measured in seconds, in my life where I thought about someone besides myself. These moments are rare and I am asking you to seek them out with all of your heart.

There were times after I’d completed my work at the hospital and while walking back to my car I felt like my feet were not touching the ground.

I know you are anxious to find your vocation. It will come after you’ve worked some time developing your talents. It will come as you live a life learning the needs of the world. But our passion will only paradoxically emerge when we create some space by serving someone other than ourselves. Someone needs you – find them. Don’t wait.


1 thought on “Shawn’s Commencement Speech – University of Missouri – Honors College”

  1. Thank you, Shawn Askinosie. I found you because of your chocolates and because your name intrigued me as I am an Askenowsi Jew. Your commencement speech is wonderful. I’m so glad you got your law degree at MU. I wish you and your family “All the best!” in the coming year. Linda Jacobs Atamian, BJ, University of Missouri School of Journalism

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