A Good Life Is About People: Video Transcript

Chris Makaroff [Dean of the College of Arts and Science; Professor of Chemistry]: And now I have the great pleasure of welcoming Scott Hess, our 2018 Guest Speaker.

Scott, as I said, is a 1989 Miami graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing. He serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at Spark Foundry in Chicago, Illinois, one of the world's largest media agencies. Apart from overseeing brand and working with clients like Taco Bell and Starbucks, Scott continues to study, write, and speak about generational theory — the field of sociology that aims to understand how people born around the same time share common attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

Scott — joining Scott here tonight are his parents, Tom and Roma Hess, and their dear friends — actually, Chuck and Marty are not here tonight, but we miss them. Scott's wife and his two sons, I'm told, are occupied with their baseball obligations in Chicago, but they're also sending their best wishes.

So in a recent interview, Scott said that although Miami wasn't initially on the top of his list — Scott — he quickly fell in love with Miami when he discovered Miami's creative writing program. He knew he was home. Back then, he says, he would rather attend a writing workshop than do just about anything else. I think, from his speech, you're going to hear there were other things he liked to do.

Scott remembers having a good time at Miami, but also being inspired by some of his teachers in honing his communication skills. He told us about an American Studies class he had in which the professor pushed every student to think hard about why they chose a position on a topic, and then made sure they were prepared to defend their choice.

Scott says, "He basically drilled it into us that in life, you can't be on the fence all the time. I remember the power of seeing that visually week after week, where he would not allow us to take a position that we couldn't defend."

Personally, I found this to be a particularly interesting anecdote, because I'd like to point out that Scott is known for a TED Talk in San Francisco that he gave several years ago called "Millennials: Who They Are and Why We Hate Them." I believe he might just have a lot to defend when he takes the podium to address a crowd of about 1500 millennials in the next couple minutes!

No pressure, Scott.

Scott Hess [Chief Marketing Officer at Spark Foundry in Chicago]: If I take the podium.

Dean Makaroff: If he takes the podium, OK.

After graduating from Miami with his creative writing degree, Scott moved to Chicago, with about $200 in his pocket and all of his stuff in moving boxes. Calling his career "a series of improvisational zigzags," he wasn't sure what to do next, so he took on small jobs — painting houses, setting up banquets at hotels, and working as a messenger for a law firm.

His big break came when a board member at a Chicago nonprofit liked the work he did as a volunteer and helped him land an interview for a proofreading position at Accenture.

Scott's passion for communicating has given him the opportunity to work on the "Truth" anti-smoking campaign to give more than 600 speeches nationwide, including that infamous TED Talk in San Francisco.

Make sure you check it out on YouTube — it really is a great TED Talk.

Scott ultimately zigzagged his way to Spark Foundry in 2011, back when it was only a 65-person media agency. Today, it spans 65 countries and employs more than 3,500 professionals. Scott credits Miami for helping him learn to communicate effectively and fulfill his passion for it.

He says, "Whether it's writing or delivering a speech or simply being able to lead a meeting with clarity and precision, my writing degree prepared me to stand out from the background and become someone who other people seek out in business."

Scott has employed a hitchhiking metaphor looking back at his career path.

"You just try to head in a good direction," he says, "and when that ride ends, you jump on another ride heading in the direction that you want to end up in. With each successive job, each successive ride, just try and get closer to your final destination."

Well, here we are at Miami and the College of Arts and Science. We are certainly proud of Scott and grateful that he has chosen to hitch his ride to be with us here tonight.

It is my great honor to introduce Scott Hess, our Guest Speaker. Please join me in welcoming Scott to the podium.

Scott Hess: Wow. This is about the most exciting thing I think I've ever done. I hope you all get a chance to be the graduation speaker someday.

I need to set the record straight, quickly. My TED talk is an eighteen-minute love letter to Millennials. The reason we hate them is because we're jealous of them because they're better than us. So how do you like that? We have a very mischievous dean here, apparently.

So, I was assigned this speech at the beginning of the semester by the dean, but I only started writing it last night. Does anybody know that feeling at all? You're going to have nightmares about it forever.

I am an unlikely graduation speaker. But truth be told, I've been writing and rewriting this speech for the last 2 or 3 months. The thing is, I am supremely frightened to be here … Sorry, I'm honored to be here is the word that I was looking for.

Good evening, and thank you, Dean Makaroff. Good evening to the rest of my fellow robe-wearing impresarios on the stage. I'm told that it is a Miami faculty tradition to be entirely naked under these robes. So I'm in. Alright, you guys are helping me. I like it.

Good evening to my friends and family who are here, who have supported me forever. I would not be here without you. There's the quavery voice — it'll come in a couple of times here. And good evening, and good day, also, to my friends who will someday watch this speech on YouTube, to see if I screwed it up.

And, finally, good evening to the all-important parents, relatives, and friends of the real stars of our evening, this sea of red. You guys! You giant, beautiful bunch of college kids! Look at you guys! You sons and daughters of Miami! Congratulations on getting here! You did it!

My fellow Miami grads of all ages, we go together, like love & honor! Like Bagel & Deli! Like Green & Beer! Let's hear it for us! Yes, us! We! Because despite my gray, thinning hair, and my obviously simmering dadbod, tonight I get to feel like one of you again, and I really appreciate it! COL-LEGE! COL-LEGE! COL-LEGE! Yeah, yeah, let's do it! COL-LEGE! COL-LEGE! Let's just go Uptown right now and call this thing off. Let's go!

Not quite yet. The dean told me I had to go through the rest.

We are a family, we Miami men and women, and we will remain a family long after this evening … and in ways that many of you can scarcely imagine. What I'm trying to say is … and it's a little awkward … but I'm actually your real father, all of you. And I want you all to come live with me in Chicago once this is over with. It's going to be fun! So, that's not actually true, but we are all related, in a way.

Several years after I left Oxford I married a Miami girl, Eileen, who is watching my kids play baseball right now. I happened to meet her in Chicago at a bar. We have two sons now. Our oldest named C.J., and our younger son is named Mikey, and he's named after two of my roommates, Mike Yearling and Michael Walter, as far as they know. And they're both over here right now. Let's hear it for Michael and Mike.

What I want you guys to know is your Miami experience is not simply what's happened to you here in Oxford, during your college years. It becomes part of you. It travels with you when you leave here, like the tattoo you got freshman year on Spring Break.

In Chicago, where I live now, my CEO and friend Chris Boothe is a Miami grad. The guy who built my house 25 years ago, Bob Burk, is a Miami grad. And the woman who let me sleep on her floor when I moved to Chicago … is a Miami grad. And she's also here, Loreen Strausser, over there!

After Oxford, after Oxford Chicago may be the best Miami town in America. We have our own Bagel & Deli there. Yes it is, yes it is. Our Bagel & Deli is called Chicago Bagel Authority. It was started 25 years ago by my go-getter friend Al Lewis, and it's owned today by the very unique Greg Gibbs. They're both Miami grads. My mouth's dry. And if you're hungover on a Sunday morning, you can go Uptown in Chicago and get a Chip's Special or a Crunch 'n' Munch. It's terrific!

If you don't go to Chicago, no matter where you settle — Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis, New York, LA, or parts in between — once you've left campus your heart will skip a beat every time you see a Miami bumper sticker, or luggage tag, or sweatshirt. Of course, I want to warn you guys in advance, that automatically asking that person "What year did you graduate?" quickly becomes depressing.

It was only 30 short years ago that I sat right where you are now, praying, as you are, that our graduation speaker, whose name escapes me, just as mine will eventually quickly escape all of you, would shut their piehole so I could get along to dinner with my family, by which I mean to beers with my friends.

Of course, unlike 30 years ago, you guys do all have cell phones. If you get bored, please, feel free. I would say do it. Start up a game of Words with Friends with your business school grad friends, who aren't busy tonight. And if history is any guide, they're horrible spellers. I do want to take a moment to talk about Miami's business school students, humble bunch that they are here. You're making me feel good, thank you.

As Arts & Science grads, they may be your friends, but let's be real about them: they are also our rivals. They are our rivals like the Cubs and the Cardinals are rivals; like the Wolverines and the Buckeyes are rivals; like the Steelers and the Browns are rivals. I would say just like the Miami Redhawks and the OU Bobcats are rivals, but let's be serious, we never think about them.

And here's my first lesson for you guys this evening: rivals can be incredibly useful. Life is more fun when you have each other. And so, when I mock the business school graduates, I do so with love. We need our rivals to motivate us. To skulk away from after they've beaten us, the better to plot our horrible vengeance, and also to mock in defeat, as we rub their ugly faces in their pitiful inadequacy.

I just tell the truth. I have a chip on my shoulder as an Arts & Science graduate, and so should you.

As a fellow Arts & Science graduate, I want to prepare you for something. For the first 5 or 10 years after you graduate here, you may find yourself calling your business-major friends for career advice, asking them how they've become so successful.

But hold on. For the next 10 or 20 years after that, they will be calling you for life advice, asking you how it is that you've become so happy. It's true.

Now, my advice to you guys is: Don't tell 'em. Let 'em suffer, the stupid business majors.

So despite Dean Makaroff's incredibly generous and only partially true introduction, I'm sure there are many of you — parents, students, and faculty alike — who are sitting there wondering, just as my family and friends are, how'd this guy get to be graduation speaker? And I'm here to tell you: You're right to wonder. Because as I said at the outset, I am a very unlikely graduation speaker.

For starters, Miami was not, as the dean said, my first choice. But, as with many things in life that don't immediately seem providential or even wise, it has become one of my best choices. What was my first choice? Duke. Duke was my first choice. I applied, early decision to Duke, and when Duke declined to make an early decision about me, so began my long career of rooting against them, in college basketball and also in life.

But I think, thanks to Miami, I dodged a bullet, which is to say, a lifetime of being one of those smug jerkwads that walks around everywhere in a Duke sweatshirt. And for that I'm thankful.

Because let's face it, let's face it, my fellow Miamians, compared to us, alums from pretty much every other college are pretty damn annoying. Especially when it comes to sports. Luckily, we Miamians do have a secret weapon. I'm going to share it with you guys tonight.

In the years ahead, during major college sporting events in which Miami plays virtually no role anymore, as others around you are yelling obnoxious, nonsensical things like"“Hoya Saxa," and "Rock Chalk Jayhawk," and "Boiler Up," you guys just look 'em in the eyes, and say, softly: "Love and Honor."

My message here is simple to you guys: Things happen for a reason, if you act like they do. Once I got to Oxford, to Chicago, to the media business, each time, after an inevitable series of fits and starts, I was all in. Wherever you guys go next, whatever you do, whoever you marry, treat it like your first choice. And it will become just that.

Another reason I'm an unlikely graduation speaker: Unlike many of you here tonight, I wasn't exactly an academic standout. This is true. I was arrested at orientation. Arrested, but never convicted. That's a line from Stripes — you can ask your parents about.

As far as I know, campus security is still looking for a guy who matches my loose description, circa 1984, but who allegedly provided the name "Eric Schmidt" to officers. Which means luckily, they're looking for a young, skinny guy with long, dark hair! And I'm told if anything goes go down tonight, Dean Makaroff has my back.

I'll admit it: I was only a fair to middling student who, for much of my time here on campus, majored in what you might call "Uptown Studies." Evening classes. My mascot, as it were, was not a Red Hawk or even a Redskin. My mascots were the late Dave Osborne at the now-defunct Ozzy's & the Balcony; Terry & Andy at Skipper's; Ned Stephenson and all the great young men and women at Bagel & Deli; and the one and only Will Weisman at that time Saloon and, obviously today at Brick Street. And Will let me in last night, and that's why I keep having to go for the water.

I tell you guys this because, as you will come to find, life after Miami will quickly become about more than just your grade-point average, or your ability to perform on tests. And, if you're not a horrible person, it will also become about more than just your career or your bank account.

A good life, you see, is about people. About making authentic connections. It's social. But as Miami grads, you already know this. In my experience, everyone who graduates from here does so with an honorary Ph.D. in socializing. In people.

In fact, the young Miami grads who work at our office in Chicago are among the best people we have. They show up with smiles on their faces, ready to pitch in. To collaborate. And to have fun with one another, and with the jerks who went to other schools. They have a special sauce that's impossible to measure in GPA or net worth. They have a lust for life that can't be quantified, and also can't be missed.

In fact, Angie at Top Deck last night, with the lemon drop thing, you had that lust for life going on. Thank you very much. It's in the water, this lust for life, here in Oxford. Or maybe it's in the green beer. You guys have this special sauce. We have this special sauce. And what I came to realize after leaving campus is that Miami — and college itself — is a colossal privilege. It's a time that is, for many of us, about being allowed to live happily in between. In between being a kid and an adult; in between being dependent and independent; and in between Dayton and Cincinnati; and in between a life of indulgence … and a life of purpose. And it's now time, I'm sorry to tell you this, to tip the scales toward purpose and independence.

If college represents a time of gaining new things — new friends, new skills, and a new appreciation for late-night food — graduation represents an opportunity to leave some things behind. And so, I also encourage you guys to think, tonight, about what you might want to leave behind when you leave Oxford. And I'm not just talking about that couch that's seen everything. We all had one.

I'm talking about things like self-indulgence. Some of the bad habits we might have acquired in college. Juuling, anyone? Cheese fries. And I'm also talking about relying on your parents for everything, from your cell phone plan to what to do with your life. Thank you, parents. I'm sure that your parents, like mine, are probably well-intentioned, wonderful people. Let's face it, they're you — but older, softer, and very poorly dressed.

Although they clearly want what's best for you, they don't know what's best for you. They don't! Only you do. Trust your gut. If it feels like a bad idea — literally, if it feels bad deep down in your body — it's probably a bad idea. Albeit a lot of fun.

That said, I don't want to discourage you from feeling uncomfortable, or from having uncomfortable conversations. Too often today, we simply avoid having tough talks, and taking on tough tasks. But most of the best things in life, and most of the best talks, happen when we allow ourselves to get out of our depth. To stretch. And to put up with a little discomfort. Don't be afraid to "go there." And by go there, I mean talking to your crazy uncle about politics at Thanksgiving.

Yes, it's true, I got away with being a fair-to-middling student, who graduated six months late, and who spent too much time Uptown. But it's not a path I would recommend to future Miamians, unless of course their goal is eventually to be happy in life, successful in business, and, someday, a graduation speaker.

And so now here's the final reason I'm an unlikely graduation speaker for you guys: The last time my parents, who are here tonight, came to Oxford to see me graduate, in May of 1988, I didn't actually graduate. To which I say: Thanks for nothing, Professor Jack Keegan! Who knew that when you told me that I'd have to write a paper for my independent study in the greenhouse … that I'd have to actually write a paper! So there was an asterisk next to my name in the graduation program, and it wasn't there to denote magna cum laude.

I remember this moment so well. My parents are still traumatized. They were not happy. And my grandmother, on the other hand, just shrugged and laughed. She was like, "Eh, whatever." And so Nana, I still thank you for that! Thank God for our grandparents!

When I emailed one of my former professors, Steven Bauer, about this honor, he replied succinctly and pointedly: "It's good to be the prodigal son." You guys remember the Prodigal Son story? The kid leaves home with his entire inheritance, spends it recklessly, and then somehow returns to a hero's welcome? For some of us, it sounds a little bit like college. But, let's be honest, the Prodigal Son was kind of a jerk. And so was I. And yet, the Prodigal Son's father, who had every right to be angry, chose not to be. Instead, he gazed upon his son, and he told him he loved him, that he had always loved him, and he was glad he was home. Which reminds me, of course … of Dean Makaroff. I love you too, Dean Makaroff.

But really, it reminds me of my own parents, and perhaps it reminds you of yours, who, despite your missteps, your wrong turns, your prodigal moments, have stood by you on your journey. Thanks, Mom and Dad. And thanks, moms and dads. And though you may not know it just yet, Miami will stand with you, too, because your relationship with this university, and with everything that it's awakened in you, is only just beginning. What matters from here forward is not the great choice you made four years ago to attend this wonderful school, or even any of the other bad choices you also made along the way: Because, let's face it, who among us hasn't taken the wrong class, dated the wrong person, or spun the shot wheel at C.J.'s after midnight?

What matters now is the choice you make to embrace it. All of it. The good. The bad. Even the ugly. And to embrace the sum total of all that you've gained, by being here these four, or four-and-a-half, or five, or however many years. The great news is, I do stand here before you as living proof, that as long as you don't let go of your Miami experience, it won't ever let go of you.

Thank you. And … Love and honor! Thank you guys, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Dean Makaroff: Thank you, Scott. You are a wonderful example of what can be accomplished starting with a Miami liberals arts education as a foundation. Right? And so, one of the things we do is we always bring back, we have a tradition of bringing back successful alumni. And so, as Scott said, not the number one student in your class, but a number one individual right here. So, he's at the top of his game!

[May 2018]