You Only Get One Shot to Make a Day That Matters

This is the speech I gave to the 2016 graduating class at the University of Georgia on Friday, May 13, 2016.

Thank you, President Morehead, University Trustees, distinguished faculty, proud parents, families and guests. I want to say hello to my family — including my sister, Meredith, who continues to be involved with the journalism school — and my mom, Connie, who has been waiting 24 years to see me wear this outfit.

Most of all, thank you Class of 2016 for inviting me to be part of this wonderful day… and congratulations. I’m humbled and honored to be here with you — and excited to be back between the hedges.

I was doing some research for my speech and I was amazed by what this class has already accomplished. A lot of you have traveled to the far reaches of the globe in pursuit of your dreams — to places like Indonesia, Slovakia, South Africa, and Dahlonega.

There are also a lot of entrepreneurs, innovators and disruptors in this group. Each of the 5,552 members of this class has a story worth sharing. And we’re here tonight to celebrate all of you: everyone who pulled an all-nighter, braved the Dawg Walk, survived Hell Week, made a late-night pit stop at Snelling, and everything in between. Maybe even with the help of a drink or two along the way at Bourbon’s.

Before you set off to take on the world, let me share a favorite quote of mine. It is from the poet John Ciardi, and it goes like this:

“The day will happen whether or not you get up.”

Let me repeat that: “The day will happen whether or not you get up.”

This is not a reprimand for those of you who are late risers (although I was wondering why this commencement was scheduled for so late in the day).

Instead, I take Ciardi’s wisdom as a wake-up call: to make sure you happen to the day instead of it happening to you. Each day can also push you to your limits — make you stumble or reduce you to tears. But no matter the circumstances, you still only get one shot to make a day that matters.

His words remind us that life is precious — a truth underscored when tragedy interrupts our daily routine, as happened here just a few weeks ago.

Days come and go… fast. Before you know it, time starts to add up. And the older I get, the more I realize that your life will happen whether you get up or not. It is true, the world can sometimes be a pretty messy place. The news is flooded with sad stories. Our politics can make us feel disheartened. The job market can be overwhelming. But know this:

The world is also full of purpose and opportunity…inspiration…creativity and excitement. And there are many more good people than bad.

Maybe you can tell I am a fairly optimistic. Much of that optimism comes naturally. And the rest comes from working hard to be true to myself. Over time, I have developed my own set of tools to bring a positive energy to each new day.

Tonight, I thought I would tell you what works for me. I call it “My Code.” So here it goes.

First: I try to live my passion. Some of you have always known what you were born to do. Others are still trying to figure it out. That’s okay! I was once an uncomfortable kid in husky jeans and braces. To be honest, I didn’t really feel like I fit in all the time. But, I knew my passion.

I fell in love with radio. I told anyone who would sit and listen that I wanted to be a broadcaster. I would play DJ in my bedroom using an old $20 RadioShack audio mixer.

I put all my energy towards achieving my goal. I also started exercising, eating better and attempting to dress better — and eventually gained more confidence.

Most importantly, I realized that it didn’t matter what anyone else said about me. What mattered was how I felt about myself and what I believed I could accomplish — if only I put everything I had into it.

The best path we can choose for ourselves is to follow our hearts more than our heads.

I also think you need to trust your gut.

Even before I stepped onto campus here 24 years ago, there was a voice inside telling me there was somewhere else that I should be. That to pursue my passion for broadcasting, I needed to be in Hollywood, and that there wasn’t a minute to waste.

Many of my professors here and my closest friends from O-House — they weren’t so sure about my plan. I was almost 20 years old. I was scared to death. But at the same time, I was never more sure of anything in my life.

When you try something new, when you take a risk or change your course, there will be naysayers and well-meaning skeptics. Thank them for their advice, but whatever you do, do not let them silence you or your intuition.

Just like me know that trusting your gut is the best decision you can make. And, decades from now — because you trusted your gut — you might find yourself asking the most famous person in the world, “Who are you wearing?”

Next: I try to listen. A lot of people think I talk for a living, but that’s not really true. The fact is, I listen for a living. When I’m on the air talking to someone, I tell myself, “shut up — listen to what this person is trying to say.”

Instead of doing all the talking, I make a point to listen. Watch for the signals. Wait for the moment when you can help others shine. It’s a wonderful thing.

Also in my code: Laugh loudly (and preferably at yourself). Let me tell you a couple of jokes that crack me up:

For the fifth consecutive year, Ryan Seacrest took home the award for best-animated short.

And here’s another one:

When Ryan Seacrest is the most masculine man on the stage, somebody better start singing Y.M.C.A.

Thank you, Jimmy Kimmel.

It’s okay to laugh. Laughter keeps you sane. Laugh hard and often. But laugh at yourself.

Next on my code: Indulge your curiosity. Your college degree is great evidence that you have learned a lot over the past four years. It’s a good start. But learning never stops!

Right now, I am trying to learn Portuguese before I go to Rio to cover the Olympics. I still have a lot to learn before the Cerimônia de Abertura.

I am pretty sure that means “opening ceremony.”

Sometimes my curiosity sets off bigger questions — one in particular that I have been struggling with for years: What really goes on at Coachella?

My friends have been talking about this music festival in the desert for as long as I can remember. What about this one event is sooooo cool? What have I have been missing? This year, I went to find out.

The music performances were all incredible. The crowd was electric. The desert was REALLY hot. And dusty. People were dirty and sweaty. And finding a bathroom — good luck! But I followed my curiosity, and now my curiosity has been satisfied. I am not sure I need to go back. Unless we get artist passes!

There are still plenty of things that I am curious about.

Do I have what it takes to surf a perfect wave off Costa Rica? How does the Electoral College actually work? Will my next car be driverless, and if so, where am I supposed to sit?

What makes you curious? Where do you want to go? What questions are you asking?

Never forget: It is our curiosity that keeps us searching.

Here’s another piece of my code: Be prepared! For example… right now, I have hair gel in my back pocket.

A long time ago, someone figured out there were 24 hours in every day. But you are looking at the guy who discovered a loophole. There is a 25th hour! The 25th hour is the time you make happen to get yourself prepared for whatever’s next. It’s when you steal back moments in your day wherever you can find them to get ready for tomorrow.

I have never forgotten the preparation skills I learned at Dunwoody High School. I always have a highlighter with me. I set the alarm on my phone and try never to hit snooze. And before any awards show, I make flash cards with three facts about every person who is going to be there.

It’s not the flash cards that make you ready, it’s taking the time to anticipate the moment that awaits you. You don’t always have to be the most talented person in the room — don’t I know that! But you can be the most prepared.

Next up: Be impatient. I’m the annoying boyfriend who keeps calling when you don’t answer the phone. When I’m relaxing at home on a Sunday night, I power through 60 Minutes in 25! And I’m the guy who gets annoyed when I order an Uber and the wait time is more than one minute.

Patience is for people who have time to kill. Not for those without a minute to waste.

If something is important, the best time for it to happen is right now. And if it’s not that important, move on to something that is. It is okay to be impatient, but still show that southern charm.

Be kind. Be brave. Hold the door. Look everyone in the eye. Say “thank you” — and when you say it, mean it.

And that brings me to giving back.

Giving back is a lot like compound interest. To maximize the impact, be sure to start early. That can mean donating a few dollars to the cause of your choice, or making time to help an organization that is trying to make a difference.

Over the past few years, with my family, we’ve helped build broadcast media studios in children’s hospitals so kids and their families can find some sort of escape. We built one down the street in Atlanta. That’s how we felt we could give back.

Choosing how to express gratitude is totally up to you. It’s one of the most deeply personal choices you will ever make. But it’s an important one.

So that’s my code.

Hopefully you are inspired to create your own. Share your code. See what your friends can offer that sounds good to you. Sometimes being your “best self” means being open to different ideas.

By this time tomorrow, you will no longer be together on this beautiful campus, so let’s take one last moment to really take it in.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Hear the sounds and smell the Athens air. Now — put that memory in a safe place. And keep it with you for the rest of your life.

You will always remember what you have learned and experienced here. It will bind you to your classmates as you travel together through time. Believe me: You are ready. You have the tools you need. You are equal to the challenges that lie ahead.

And right now, the only thing between you and your diploma is the last line of my speech. So here it is.

Class of 2016, this is your day, and your amazing life is waiting for you. Go make it happen.

Good luck. Thank you.