Abraham Lincoln failed 26 times. I am sure that many of you find that hard to believe. Lincoln is known as one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. Since I have probably failed about 30 times, Lincoln still has a better track record than me and probably many of you in the audience today. How many times have you slipped on the ice? How many times did you never get a second date with somebody? That’s failure! How many times did I get an 89 percent instead of a 90 percent on a test? Well, that actually never happened to me, but raise your hand if that happened to you.
Hmm. I know that many of you are lying by not raising your hand. Yet, who is telling lies and who is telling truth does not really mean anything, at least as far as the Valedictorian crown goes. I am standing on this stage for only one reason: my grade is higher than yours and everyone else’s in this room. The only thing that matters is what grade I have and what grade that most of you do not have. Does that sound ridiculous? Well, that is because it is ridiculous. A grade is just an achievement and overcoming failure to find success, now that is an accomplishment.
Lets get back to Lincoln. It took 26 times for him to become president of the United States. Do you think that failing 26 times is a character flaw? On the contrary, it is actually a strength. The best thing about failure is that you have the opportunity to prove that you are strong enough to get back up. We learn more through failure than we do through our successes. My mother would always say, “If you never have to deal with problems, then that’s your biggest problem.”
Problems are the key to our success. What do we really learn from success that happens quickly and never requires one to adjust and revamp things? If you looking at failure from the vantage point of a musician, then after a successful performance, one can say that one was prepared and practiced enough to make it successful. Yet, how much does that teach somebody? What is the new lesson that was learned beyond the reinforcement of the old adage, “Practice makes perfect?” If one has another similar success from a performance, then you can say the same thing: that practice helped somebody be successful. However, take that same situation and reverse it. The performance really bombed. You were out of tune, the rhythm was off, and the song felt wrong. All in all, you label it as a complete disaster.
If you perceive the performance of the song as a “failure,” you may think that you need to practice more. Yet, say that you did prepare as best as you could and the song still did not work. Now, you really have a golden opportunity to change something. Perhaps, the genre of the song was a show tune and man, you think musicals are the corniest things that ever graced the earth. Then you think, well, why did I even sing this crazy song to being with? You realize that somebody told you to sing it. Maybe it was your grandmother who grew up when “Fiddler on the Roof” and “West Side Story” were considered risqué and pushing the boundaries of traditional values.
You may love your grandmother and all, but is she the person to guide you in a music career? Would you call up Betty White to learn how to throw a football? Maybe from that “failed” performance, you realize that your voice sounded out of tune most of the time, except for one key. Actually, now that you think about it, your voice actually did sound quite amazing when you sang in that key. You rack your brain, trying to think of who the artist is who sings well in that key. Finally, you think of him. Rob Thomas! What makes Rob Thomas so awesome? He writes vulnerable lyrics, connects with his audience, and plays guitar.
Six months later, you are playing guitar again and writing your own songs, pouring your heart and soul into your performances. Three months after that, you are playing these songs for open mikes, bookstores, and bars. You are actually getting paid for your music, the days of singing show tunes that your grandmother suggested now done and over. Now, do you think that bad show tune performance was a failure? That failure made you into the person that were supposed to be: a successful musician who is being true to one’s soul.
Failure. My wish for you is that all of you fail, as badly and as intensely as you possible can. The person out there who is graduating with a 68 percent, your first two years of high school spent getting high, how much more does this graduation day mean to you? How about the person who got pregnant at 15 years old, an instant outcast from her friends, but you are sitting her with a solid B plus and more self-confidence. Now, you have a story to tell your daughter, how her birth motivated you to get into college and give her a good life. My grandfather was an alcoholic, never putting food on the table for his kids. That failure made my father a hard worker, my father making sure that we never went a day in our life without something to eat. Sometimes, that translated to my father working 15 hours days, 6 days a week to make sure that he provided for us and cared for our needs.
Abraham Lincoln failed 26 times. During his presidency, he created the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery. What if Lincoln gave up after failure 25? Maybe I would not be standing here right now, hoping that I continue to fail. For only in failure, do we really succeed and accomplish something. I hope all of you are brave enough to fail at least 27 times in your life.