J.D. Vance Gives 2017 Commencement Address at Zane State Colleges

J.D. Vance Gives 2017 Commencement Address at Zane State Colleges

October 27, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


At this time I would like to introduce
you to our guest celebrity, JD Vance is an investor, a commentator, and author of
the number one New York Times best selling Hillbilly-ology. Described by the
National Review as a brilliant book and by The Economist is one of the most
important reads of 2016. Truly I can tell you this book changed
my life. Raised by his working-class grandparents in Middletown Ohio,
JD graduated high school in 2003 and immediately enlisted in the United
States Marine Corps. He was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi
Freedom. When he finished his four-year enlistment JD moved back to Ohio and
enrolled at the Ohio State University. After graduating, he studied at Yale Law
School. During his time he provided free legal counsel to veterans.
JD earned his law degree in 2013. After a stint at a large corporate law firm
JD moved to San Francisco to work in the technology industry. He served as a
principal at the leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Mithril Capital. JD
continues to lecture and write on topics of public interest. In early 2017 he
returned home to Ohio to found Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to addressing the state’s opioid crisis and bringing high quality
employment and educational opportunities to Ohioans. He regularly discusses
politics and public policy on national networks and has appeared on ABC,
CBS, and Fox News. He currently serves as a contributor on CNN. JD lives in
Columbus Ohio with his wife and two dogs and soon-to-be young little man where he
works on his non profit and investment activities. Please join me in welcoming
JD Vance to the lectern. Well, Thank You Mr. President. Thank you
to the Board of Trustees and to everybody here at Zane State College,
for welcoming me franking me feel like like such a welcomed member of the
community. I want to be one of the first to first of all wish you guys
congratulations to the graduates the class of 2017, congratulations. So, I remember not long after I graduated
from high school in 2003 that I watched a commencement address by Steve Jobs, the
founder of Apple, and in that commencement address Steve Jobs advised
people to do what they loved, to follow their passion, to make sure that whatever
they did, whatever field of work that they were in they should follow their
passion and do what they loved and I remember watching that and thinking that
it didn’t necessarily apply especially well to me and then I wish somebody had
given me different advice. Because if I think about what it is that I love, well
I love for example sitting around in my underwear eating ice cream, but I don’t
think anybody’s going to pay me anything to do that and certainly I maybe have
tried and trust me they won’t pay you for doing that. There are a lot of things
I love I love playing with my German Shepherd dog but again no one’s going to
really pay me to do that either, and so I had wished then that somebody had given
me a different set of advice, and give me a different piece of advice and that’s
what I’m going to give you folks here today. And that’s not necessarily find
what you love though if you find something that you love and you can work
in that field then by all means follow that passion, and follow that interest. But
if it doesn’t describe you, then do something else,
find a vocation. And what do I mean by that what I mean is find something that
you enjoy doing most of the time and that you’re good at. Now the story of how
I found my vocation is pretty odd because if you’d looked at my life when
I was 13 years old you would have expected that I wouldn’t have
turned out especially well. I was struggling in a lot of different ways. I
was starting to experiment with drugs. I was not doing
especially well in school, and it was in early high school when my mother came to
me and said that she needed a jar of my urine and the reason she needed it is
because she had to pass a state-mandated drug test the next day. Now I didn’t want
to give her that jar of urine and I didn’t want to help her out I didn’t
want to enable her, but eventually I did and I did in part because my Mamaw, my
grandmother, who had played such a positive role in my life encouraged me
to do so, and I couldn’t turn mamaw down because even before I moved in with
Mamaw, she was this incredibly positive
influence on my life. She really was the savior in my life, the person who made it
possible for me to live a decent and happy life. But the upside of that moment
as traumatic as it was to have to enable mom like that, the really great thing
about that moment is that Mammal saw what effect it was having on me she saw
that I went to school teary-eyed, and upset that day and she realized that the
way that I was living was starting to have real consequences for me and so she
said JD we’re done with this moving around crap. We’re done with you spending
a few days here a few days there you’re going to come in and you’re going to
live with me and we’re going to do things differently. now those who haven’t
read the book maybe don’t appreciate what an incredible person my Mamaw was.
She didn’t necessarily fit the stereotype of a classic grandmother. She
really loves to use the f-word and when she died she had 19 loaded handguns in
her house and the reason that she had 19 is because she used a walker
and didn’t get around especially well, and so she had hidden them in various
parts of her house so that if an intruder came in no matter where she was
she had a loaded handgun within arm’s reach. But but Mamaw also provided the love and
the discipline that I needed. You know she found out for example that I was
hanging out with a kid in town who was known to be doing drugs even at a young
age. And she said JD you know what, if you keep hanging out with that kid I’ll tell
you what I’ll do I’m gonna run him over with my car. And
no one will ever find out. Of course I don’t think that Mamaw would have
actually run over an innocent kid, but I thought she did at the time and that was
enough to set me straight and there were a lot of moments like that, a lot of
moments where Mamaw provided not just the love but also the discipline I
needed to live a happy life, and I know looking out across the audience there
are a lot of mamaws and Papaws and moms and dad, aunts, and uncles who played
similar roles in your lives. Now the story of my life from there is that
things went pretty well for me I graduated from high school my grades had
gotten better by that point. I enlisted in Marine Corps I spent four years in
the Marine Corps and then like you just heard I went to Ohio State and on to
Yale Law School. But every single step of the way even though I did a lot of cool
stuff and I did some things that I enjoyed, I never found a passion, I never
did something that made me feel like I was never at work, and I think the truth
is that I’m just not the sort of person that is ever going to feel like that. But
what I did realize as I was going through my life in college, and in the
marine corps, in law school is that there were things that I enjoyed doing and
there were things that I was pretty good at. I was decent at writing and so
eventually I started to focus a lot on writing and of course that’s worked out
pretty well for me. I liked math and I also liked working in businesses but not
any business, I really liked new businesses I liked the challenge of what
a startup company required, of raising that initial round of money so that you
can hire people and bring people on of finding that first customer, in closing
that first deal, and so I worked in venture capital which is a sector of the
investment community that focuses on early-stage startups. Now I love those
things in the sense that I’m really happy what I’m doing, but I would never
say that they were purely my passion and I think that the thing
that we should be mindful of for those of you who are like me, who were always
going to see a job as a job even if it’s a job that you like. Is that you
shouldn’t put yourself under too much pressure. You shouldn’t think that unless
you wake up every single day, and you were happy at your job that somehow
you’re a failure because trust me I think even Steve Jobs probably hated his
job quite a bit. I think that what you should do is think about the things that
you’re good at. Find the skills you’re good at and figure out a way to
translate those skills into a job that pays a good wage, and makes you happy and,
makes you feel like you’re contributing meaningfully to your community. Now I
picked up a lot of advice I picked up a lot of bits of wisdom that I’ll share
with you now on the way to finding my vocation. The first thing that I learned
and I learned it the hard way is that failure happens to everybody
failure doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person failure doesn’t mean that the
trajectory of your life is fundamentally negative and going down. It happens to
everyone, and I have seen failure happen to every single person. Now I remember
just a few years ago I was hired to be a policy staff person on a
presidential campaign. Now I was so excited I had wanted to work in policy
for my entire life and and working on public policy allowed me to work on some
of the things that I really cared about. Again, it was a possible vocation for me
but after two days on that job I was fired, and the reason I was fired is
because the person who had hired me had discovered that I had written some
things that were critical of the campaign that I was working for. Not
anything especially egregious, not anything super negative, but they just
didn’t understandably they didn’t want anybody who was out there having
criticized their candidate. And so they let me go. I remember walking home that
day and feeling so terribly ashamed of myself, of thinking in myself things will
never work out, I will never be happy. Things will never go in the right
direction for me and then three days later I actually got an offer to go and
work in the technology sector in Silicon Valley. So something that I
we wanted to do, something that in fact was willing to put off for this
presidential campaign opened up right at the moment where I was at my lowest,
where I thought that my entire life was going to be one of failure and of
problems. That lesson in failure taught me 1) yes that failure happens to
everybody but that 2) how well you deal with failure is very often a function of
how well you interact with the people in your community, and in your family.
Because I didn’t want to tell my wife that I had gotten fired, I remember
feeling ashamed I didn’t want to see the look in her eye when I told her that
this thing that I was really excited about that just two days earlier I had
walked in the door triumphantly holding my phone and saying I got this job, and I
had to go, and tell my wife in almost the exact opposite way that I hadn’t gotten
that job and in fact it had been retracted. But when I told my wife that
expecting her to look at me like I was a failure or like I was a bad person what
she and it instead did was give me a hug and tell me that everything was going to
work out. And it’s important when you fail not just to pick yourself back up
but to let the people in your life pick you up too. Another lesson
that I learned is that it’s important to never think the deck is stacked against
you. Now I grew up in a family with a lot of disadvantage we did not have a lot of
money, my family was completely ripped apart by the opioid epidemic. There were
a lot of things that weren’t easy for me, and my beloved Mamaw
recognized that. She said JD things are unfair for people like us. Things are not
as easy for people who grew up like us. Things are not as easy for poor people- but never be like those losers, who think the deck is stacked against
you, because you can do anything you want. Now that is a hard and very real tension
that exists and something that a lot of you I guarantee are facing right now and
will continue to face for the rest of your life, to recognize that things
haven’t been as easy for you, to recognize that life maybe has dealt you
a crappy hand, but to still have the courage
to play that hand as well as possible any way. To recognize that no matter what
barriers life placed in front of you to take courage from those barriers to
recognize them and to overcome them anyway. Now that’s not an easy line to
walk I think we too easy fall under the trap of saying there are no barriers for
some of the people that have had a tough life, or that the barriers are completely
overwhelming and can overcome you. But the successful people that I’ve seen, the
people who have done well in life, the people who have led happy lives have
recognized that the disadvantage they face is important and real but that it
shouldn’t defeat them all at the same time. And I encourage you to try to walk
that balance and to appreciate that tension as much as you can. Another piece
of advice is to appreciate that what makes a happy life isn’t just a
successful location, but it’s everything else that exists in your life too. It’s
your family it’s your friendships, it’s the friends that you’ve made here at
Zane State, and it’s the friends that you’ll make throughout the entire course
of your life. Now I remember when I was going through law school there was this
sense that people had, that their self-worth and their measurement was
purely in their credentials and in their accomplishments. People were desperate to
get that next great job. People were desperate to get that next item on their
resume. They were desperate to have something that they could show to their
friends and family that said I made it. And I remember, being so caught up in that rat race, being so obsessed with getting that next great job, that I
applied for a job that I didn’t even want, in California. And eventually it was
a mentor it was a law school professor who told me JD, I don’t think that this
job is worthwhile, I don’t think that this job is something that’s going to
help you in your career goals, I think you’re going after this for all the
wrong reasons. You’re going after this because it’s a fancy credential, and then
she gave me the best piece of advice that I have ever been given by anyone.
And it’s I think that you should decline that job and I think you should focus on
this girl that you recently started dating that I can tell that you’re crazy
about. Now that was six years ago that she gave me that advice, and in three
weeks that girl that I decided to focus on is going to have our first baby.
That’s my wife and and being willing to sacrifice for family, being willing to
focus on the things in life that really matter is too often seen in our society
as a sign of weakness. Too often seen as a bad decision and I am here to tell you
that it is in fact the best and most important decision that you will ever
make. To focus on your friends and to focus on your family, to make not just
your vocation an important part of your life but to make your friends and family
a part of that life too. The very last piece of advice that I want to give you
folks, is and I’m mindful that I am here in Zanesville, which is so much like
Middletown Ohio, where I grew up. And that’s to remember where you came from.
Now it will be easy for you to look at where you came from and to criticize it.
And I certainly look sometimes back at Middletown and think to myself man the
middle town I grew up in was kind of a crap hole, it was easy for me to be a
little bit ashamed of where I came from because I found when I went to places
like Ohio State and Yale, that some people even look down maybe on the
places that I came from and thought less of me because I didn’t come from a
certain city, because I didn’t come from a certain high school. But one of the
most important things I’ve realized in my life is that there were incredible
amounts of love, and courage, and resilience, and wisdom in the people in
the place that I came from and I guarantee that’s true for each and every
one of you. So don’t forget that. Now I’ve had, like I said, sort of an
odd life. I have very complex feelings about my mom who became addicted to
prescription opioids, and she’s doing well now, but it was hard for me to
accept that just because somebody had wronged me, just because somebody had
maybe made a bad decision, that they weren’t entirely a bad person, and that
even though there were negative things about my community, and about my
neighborhood, and about my culture, they were incredibly powerful, and important
and, good things to come from those places. Draw strength from those good
things you’re going to have bad people in your life. You’re going to have bad
people in your family. You’re going to have complicated relationships with
nearly everyone, but if you go through life recognizing that people are complex,
that you can take the good even as you accept the bad, that there is real
strength in this community that made you, that supported you, and that loves you.
You will always stay rooted, you will always stay grounded, and importantly you
will always stay humbled. And that’s an incredibly important part of living a
happy life. Now part of remembering where you came from is to honor your loved
ones and to honor the people that made you who you are. One of the lessons of my
life, and certainly one of the theses of my book, is that for kids who grow up in
the circumstances that I grew up in a lot of things had to go right. And a lot
of things really had to go right for me, I had to have a mammaw, who even though
she couldn’t afford the co-pays on our prescription drugs, made sure that I had
school supplies so that I could do well in school. I had a sister who despite
being only 6 years older than me made sure that she called my Mamaw and papaw
when things got too chaotic in my home, so that we could get the help that we
need. I had an aunt and an uncle, who provided
me a home after mamaw died and no one was able to provide me a place to live. I
had teachers and mentors. I had friends who helped me along the way.
I even now encounter people who are nice to me not because they have to be or
because they should be, but because it’s the right thing to do. And so part of
honoring all of these people who sit here behind you,
is not just to thank them and not just to love them, but to pay it forward, to
treat the people in your life the same way that they treated you, to find a kid
to mentor who really needs it even though he’s not necessarily your
responsibility. That is the most important way to honor the people behind
you because they have given and given, and they don’t want much in return. They
maybe just want a little respect, a thank you every now and then, and a recognition
that the people that they’ve invested so much in, are going to live happy lives.
Happy lives where those people can pay it forward, and where you can play the
same role in a lot of the people’s lives that you care about that they played in
your life. The very last piece of advice that I’ll give you, is that you should
feel good about today and about the recent years that have led to today’s
accomplishments. This is of course not just about today this is about this is
the shining jewel in the crown of many years in some cases, at least a couple of
years for nearly all of you. Years of hard work of study of late nights, of
time spent away from work and family. You should feel good about today. You should
honor the people who helped you get here. You should thank them. You should
celebrate them, but I ask you to also recognize that you should pat yourselves
on the back a little bit today, celebrate today, respect what you’ve done, and
tomorrow recognize that the next chapter begins,
and I hope you all have the same success in that next chapter as you’ve had in
this one. I will be rooting for you and I wish you the best of luck. Thank you so
much. Thank You mr. Vance that was
inspirational, truly special, and I’d love some time over dinner to trade grandma
stories. Everyone at the college appreciates you participating in this
day and let me tell you this entire community thanks you for helping us tell
our story.