I want to congratulate everyone on their well-earned and expensive Arts Degree and I hope all of you will join me in wishing everyone the best of luck in our future careers as funky waiters and waitresses, couch surfers and prideful street performers.
I want to talk about something very important, a story I take extremely seriously. A story about a transformative time in my life as a person and filmmaker. I want to talk to about a very important… hotdog.
About seven years ago I was fresh off of a breakup, listening to a lot of Russian opera and bathing semi-monthly. I was spending a lot of time alone. I got a call from a friend asking me out to lunch. I gave him some excuse and told him under no circumstances was I able to leave the house that day. An hour later I was reluctantly eating a very important hot dog on Hollywood Blvd. with my friend Blake.
During our lunch, Blake got a phone call about a television production job. He wasn’t available but asked me if I would be interested in spending three months in a small town in western Kansas that had just been hit by a tornado. I gave him some excuse and flat out refused to even consider it. I had been working real production jobs in LA for years and, quite frankly I told him, an out of town job was beneath me. A week later I landed in Wichita.
I told a cute girl I wasn’t ready to date again and later spent two weeks driving up and down the pacific coast together. When she asked me to move to LA and live with me, I refused, then picked her up at the train station the following month. And four years ago when she asked me if I wanted to leave LA and move to Kansas I screamed and yelled and gave a million reasons why it would be the worst mistake of my life and cause irreparable damage to my career. Within the month we were crossing the Kansas border on our way towards some uncertain present. I took a job at a newspaper because I didn’t want to stock shelves at Dillion’s or pave county roads. I shook hands with people I hated and spent too many hours on a newspaper nobody read.
In my last six months, before I reluctantly decided to move to Lawrence to finish my degree at KU, I made a small film about a young girl and her family, living in a tiny western Kansas town. When I applied to grad school the film single handedly got me interviews with three of the top film MFA programs in the world with an acceptance and a $10k annual fellowship to Columbia University, which I somewhat reluctantly accepted because it was not my first choice.
This is a story about how eating a hot dog got me into an Ivy League grad school. I did it by getting uncomfortable, by taking the unanticipated route and being open to experiences which terrified me, annoyed me and often caught me off guard.
Graduation is a time when everyone has advice about your future. I won’t offer my own advice, but for me; as an artist with responsibility to interpret life; hoping to better understand it I have to get uncomfortable. Most careers don’t allow for these zig-zagging, amuse-bouche experiences. But as an artist, not only am I allowed to do this; I believe it is my obligation to do so.