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May 05th, 2018

Josh Groban Tells HPU Grads to Embrace Fear and Trust Their Instincts

Josh Groban addressed 1,084 graduates, HPU’s largest graduating class, and more than 10,000 people on HPU’s campus

Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU president, led the annual Commencement Ceremony.

HIGH POINT, N.C., May 8, 2018 – Before he became the internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and actor that he is today, Josh Groban was afraid to sing in front of anyone, including his own parents. Today, he told more than 1,000 graduates, High Point University’s largest graduating class, and 10,000 guests in attendance that his fear propelled him to places of success. He charged the students to never back away from challenges and to always trust their instincts.

Groban, who was forced to the front of his chorus class at the age of 13, singing only on assignment, told the audience that fear is a great thing.

“I believe that it would be better to fail at doing something challenging, something worthwhile, and something I’m excited to show the world than to succeed doing something safe, something that wouldn’t actually inspire much at all,” he told graduates. “You learn with experience that some fear is the good stuff. Not all. But when the fear comes from a place of wanting to follow through with passion – something you believe in, it’s good. When it comes to your future experiences, as you enter the world with your knowledge and excitement, as you choose opportunities, always remember: if you aren’t scared, be worried.”

Having uncovered his passion for singing, Groban enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University and formed a plan. He was going to be a theater graduate and slowly work his way to Broadway before another opportunity arose – a record deal.  

“You are here today because you said yes to the opportunity that High Point University offered you,” Groban told the graduates. “You took that wonderful leap when they offered it to you. And behind that were more ‘yeses’ and more times you could have not jumped at something when not jumping would have been so much easier and safer. When you’re not sure that someone else’s ideas for your life are right for you, when they tell you what you should do, it’s those gut-check moments that are valuable and often times hard to act on. Work that muscle. Don’t be afraid to hurt a little while you do.”

Groban shared the story of his first major performance opportunity. He was 16 years old, trying to become a professional singer, and he received a call from music producer David Foster. Foster asked if he would be able to fill in for a Grammy Award rehearsal and perform a duet with Celine Dion. Groban, feeling unprepared, declined the offer. But the producer called Groban back and demanded that he come perform.

“He called back because he heard something in me and saw what I didn’t,” said Groban. “We’re not always going to know when it’s the right time to say yes and the right time to say no. Surround yourself with people you trust and who get you. People who get your demons and believe in you, not just in what you have to offer them. Surround yourself with people who don’t mind saying it like it is. Keep them close. They have literally saved my life and career in more ways than they know.”

Groban also encouraged graduates to get past their nerves and forge ahead.

“Every day of the first few years of my career, I felt like I was faking it,” he said. “My confidence was a sham. I was a student and a professional at the same time. On stage, I was crushing it. Off stage, I was a ball of doubt. I’m sure you’ve all felt that during the course of your time here, and you’re sure to feel it when you leave. That is natural, it’s human and it’s okay. Plow through it.”

The singer concluded his speech with a serenade to the class of 2018, singing a piece from the musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” written by one of his favorite composers, Stephen Sondheim.

As is tradition at HPU’s graduation, a bald eagle soared over the graduates at the end of the ceremony to symbolize the ideals of free enterprise, independence and the ability to pursue new opportunities in America.

Graduates also received a powerful Senior Send-Off on May 4 from HPU President Nido Qubein, who encouraged them to live lives of both success and significance.

“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occur while you’re climbing it,” Qubein told graduates and their families. “It’s the journey that counts. It’s the power of one. It’s the energy that comes with faithful courage. It’s your ability to achieve success in your own way. It’s your charge to light a candle where darkness prevails. It’s you, holding out your hand to the right and to the left adjoining hands with others to fill every community you enter with light. Never tell yourself you’re too old or too young to make it. Never tell yourself you’ve missed the chance to get it done or that you aren’t good enough. You can do it, whatever it is. You have learned about the art of the possible at High Point University. So, yes you can. You were created for a reason.”


Top Highlights from Groban’s Speech Include:

“You’re all here because of your incredibly hard work and effort and beautiful minds. But you’re also here because someone helped. Think of someone who did that for you. Anyone who, along the way, gave you that push and made you take stock. Anyone who helped you find your path or your voice or encouraged you to take a chance and take a risk. That person who said the uncomfortable thing for your benefit. If that person is here today, make sure you don’t leave without giving them a mighty thank you and a hug. Let them know. If they aren’t here, let them know. And if they aren’t on the planet with us anymore, honor them in the choices you make going forward. But to all of them, say thank you.”

“I still get nerves. You will too, forever if you’re doing it right.”

“It’s important to cultivate your circle offline. Not 500 Facebook friends, but the five people you would invite to dinner. That’s so important.”

“I’ve collected experiences. So, the next time I’m in a situation that scares me, chances are I’ve been through something similar by doing, again and again, to the best of my ability each time. Go out and do. Collect those tools. Your future self will be so grateful you worked through the awkwardness. Because trust me, there are no shortcuts to feeling competent at what you do. It’s the work. And I wouldn’t be lucky enough to stand here if I didn’t pick up on that immediately.”

“The good news is that people won’t really pay as much attention to your missteps as you do if the missteps were in the name of striving forward and growth. You will make them and you will be challenged to pick yourself up. Do it.”

“When you do something great, that connects and affects people positively. That sticks way longer and way deeper than any slip up.”

“You’ve all got career goals on your minds. And maybe some of you don’t. And that’s absolutely fine as well right now. We’re well aware of the competition, the grind, the work ethic that lies ahead. But one of the important things my dad told me when I was having darker moments – yes, I, Josh Groban have darker moments – when he could see how hamster-wheel my brain was and how little I was putting into my actual life, was to value the things that make you truly happy. Not just satisfied or validated. Things that make your soul fulfilled. Friends, loves, a pet.”

“All over the country, in these spring weeks, people are standing as I am, at podiums, speaking to young adults graduating from college, or graduating from high school, and telling them the future is in their hands. It’s been said countless times through the generations, to millions of graduates-to-be. But this year, more than it has been in ages, it feels true. Right now, we can see what is happening on campuses, in workplaces, in houses of government, in the streets, where people of your generation are speaking up and leading the way for the greater good. That stage is yours now and hasn’t been this pivotally important in decades. Do not take your responsibility lightly. They say it’s a curse to live in interesting times and well, these are them. We’re learning what it means, more than ever, to leave good foot prints. They are needed more than ever.”

“Make sure giving back is a big part of life going forward.”

“Promise me you’ll stop and feel the wind when you succeed. That’s the balance. And that part is hard. Especially for people who like to work as hard as you and I do.”

“You have my greatest respect and confidence as you seek your paths, as you go change the world, as we trust you with the future. You won’t disappoint us. Be kind. Be generous. Be inclusive. And, use your voices. As Virgil said about 2,000 years ago, ‘Let us go singing as far as we go: the road will be less tedious.’”

“Find a cause that you’re passionate about like I have been with arts education. Make time for that too. It will give back to you in ways you have no idea. It’s truly a win-win, and if every graduate across the globe chose one thing philanthropically, we would all be spoiled by what we are capable of.”

“Life is so, so weird. Embrace that weirdness and go into it with the confidence that you have something to add that is uniquely you.”