Thursday, May 31, 2018

Leanna's 2018 Commencement Speech for Edgewood High School

Edgewood High School staff, Leanna at center: To left, Becky Simpson and right, Sue Combs: Influential Teachers
Hello My Dears! This past weekend I had the honor of addressing my Alma Mater, as I was asked to be this year's Commencement Speaker. In addition to offering brief words of wisdom and encouragement to the graduates, I was asked to honor two influential teachers who have been a part of my success as an actor, playwright and multi-published author. It was an incredible, meaningful, unforgettable experience. As promised, here's the speech. I hope it inspires you! Blessings!

Saturday, May 26th, Edgewood High School Class of 2018 Commencement Speech, Millet Hall, Oxford Ohio, Leanna Renee Hieber

It’s incredible to be back here, in this space, in front of Edgewood graduates. In 1997 when I was Edgewood’s Valedictorian, this was the biggest audience I’d ever had. Thanks for giving me another chance in front of a stadium crowd! 

Since growing up in Ohio, attending Edgewood, then Miami University, I’ve been all around the country. In 2005, I landed in New York City to pursue theatre and writing. In 2009 my first set of novels, called Strangely Beautiful, were published. Now with over ten novels under my belt for various publishers and more on the way, I wear lots of hats. I remain an actress, I’m also a tour guide, artist and a speaker around the country. I’m blessed to say I make my living exclusively in the arts in the big city. As you can guess, I could never choose between performing and writing, so I chose both. That’s why, when I was asked to honor one of my Edgewood teachers today, I couldn’t choose just one. 
Becky Simpson, English teacher, writing teacher, head of our Drama club and also often a director of plays, and Sue Combs, choir teacher, Choralier teacher, also a director of plays and musicals: You both were utterly foundational in fostering my well-rounded career in the arts. 
You each had a unique way of teaching that came from your individual voice and passion This ignited ours. You approached your classes like an invitation, inviting us to find, in your lessons, a common ground with our own interests, an enjoyment and an excitement. You didn’t demand we love literature or music as much as you did, you invited us to. Those of us who chose to really show up at the table where you’d set a feast; we were nourished by your enthusiasm, your commitment, and your quirky ways of making learning fun. My freshman year was bookended by both of you as my directors for the fall play and the spring musical, and we all went from there. All the seeds you planted grew healthy and strong. Those of us who joined you in extra-curricular activities got the chance to expand on what you fostered in the classroom. These invitations of yours became my professions. I am so grateful. I’m so thrilled to present each of you with this Influential Teacher award.

Now, Edgewood High, class of 2018, my goodness, is this moment exciting or what?! When I’m asked to give a bit of advice from my own experience working in fields I love, the core lesson really is to follow your dreams. I know, it sounds so trite and worn out, but the core of what makes you- just you, original, unique you, is priceless. A group of writers could each be given the exact same writing prompt and all of us would come up with completely different stories. Don’t worry about being any other voice but your own. Cherish diversity and uniqueness within yourself and in others. Foster your own individual strengths. Take moments along the way to lift up others around you as you grow, learn, develop new insights and become more well-rounded. A mind that’s constantly learning is the healthiest. We’re all individuals, but no one makes it in the world alone. Everything ‘takes a village’ as they say, and because of everyone’s inherent uniqueness, everyone has something special to offer. 
Because the world is full of unexpected twists and turns, I encourage everyone to foster not just one dream, but a few. Opportunities don’t come via just one channel, or in the ways we expect, and certainly not on a time table we can predict. Industries are constantly shifting. Mine have changed radically and I’ve raced to try to keep up. If you’re adaptable, and good at not just one thing but several, and can redirect your focus where its most advantageous, you’ll fashion a rewarding life rising to challenges and opportunities accordingly. You’ll set an example others can follow when they don’t know what to do next. Try a few things next.  
Seek out things you don’t hate doing. Whether you’re going into further education, taking time off, going right into a trade; whatever makes your heart beat, matters. Getting stuck in any kind of work or study you hate is really difficult. Often, it’s unavoidable, but it can be temporary. Personally, and no offense to the profession, I hated my temp-job as a paralegal. Again, no offense to the corporation, but I hated working at Starbucks. Once a talent agency I worked for put me inside a Pillsbury doughboy suit at the General Mills headquarters. Not my finest day, but that one paycheck paid me far more than the Tennessee Williams play I was starring in that night, so I did those temporary things for the larger goal. Sometimes you have to do absurd things to get by, while you try to get in somewhere you don’t hate. Keep your spirits up in the meantime. Laughing about it helps. That day in the Doughboy suit? I wrote about that ridiculous day and it turned into my first professional writing gig for Dramatics magazine. Who’d have thought? 
I’m very blessed to have jobs where I create characters and take them on fantastical adventures, to work behind the camera and in front of it, to write for the stage and speak at comic-cons and conventions. But the long, winding road to get here continues to twist and turn as the industries I’m in face constant change and uncertainty, so the advice I’m giving is one I keep taking. 
You’re at such an important time, but I know it’s a spooky one too. Big changes are difficult. Not knowing exactly how the next phase of your life will play out can be very stressful. I think it’s part of the human condition to worry, but change is just as equal a reality of the human condition. There are always questions to be asked and doors to open. It’s hard to think of life being a series of unresolved questions, but a question mark is also an invitation. An opportunity for innovation. A chance to let good, new, exciting things in. 
My favorite poet and philosopher Rainer Maria Rilke has a quote from his collected Letters to a Young Poet that I think of nearly every day: 

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

I invite you to live boldly, creatively, adaptively into your answers. 
Thank you, blessings and good luck.

(The End)

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