As a summer intern at Behind the Book, attending the MCA graduation was a great way for me to see the tremendous impact that the physical presence of an author makes on a classroom. Just as watching the Harry Potter or Twilight series on a movie screen gives a viewer a completely different experience from reading the books, the 3D manifestation of any given situation adds depth to an individual’s experience of it. With this said, it’s one thing to read about Henry James, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, or in this case, Paul Griffin, and another to meet an author in real life. The MCA seniors had the amazing opportunity to not only read Paul Griffin’s Stay With Me, but to also ask him questions about his writing experience in getting to know him in a personal way. This beats reading an author biography on Wikipedia any day. If you are interested in learning more about Paul Griffin’s keynote address to the MCA graduates, read on.
The pulsing rhythm of a bongo drum and four dancers dressed in gorgeous red costumes initiated the MCA Graduation. The members of the graduating class of 2012, adorned in dazzling metallic blue gowns, followed the dancers in an elegant fashion. They walked toward the stage, exuding bright smiles to compliment their brilliant confidence.
After the salutatorian’s inspiring speech, a faculty member introduced author Paul Griffin as the keynote speaker for this year’s graduating class. Through Behind the Book, the seniors at MCA had the unique opportunity to learn about Paul Griffin’s writing journey—not to mention his touching life story—in the process of discovering themselves as readers and writers.
The students learned that before settling down as a writer, Paul Griffin experimented with many different career paths. He assumed occupations as an EMT, butler, waiter, dog trainer, construction zone worker, and teacher, among many other professions. However, he was able to translate his diverse work experiences into his ultimate passion of storytelling. As a result, his open-minded mentality toward his different career choices was directly related to the rich, vivid, and unforgettable stories that he shared with the students at MCA.
Paul Griffin’s unique ability to translate his stories into eloquent novels inspired and challenged these MCA seniors to pursue their own writing styles. The students in Miss Molly’s 12th grade class enjoyed reading his novel, Stay With Me. As Griffin shared his writing process with these students, they were able to experience first-hand the beauty and power of translating words onto paper. Eventually, they even wrote their own stories to compliment his. After this event, Paul Griffin was considered to be more than an author to them—he quickly became a mentor and friend.
Paul Griffin’s keynote address covered everything from American Idol to a gold pocket watch to dreams. He began his speech with the following questions: “How many of you believe that your dreams are gonna come true?” and “How many of you watched American Idol this spring?”
He went on to say, “The kid who won American Idol was from a small town in Georgia. He auditioned with nothing but jeans and a t-shirt.” Griffin elaborated upon the idea that although the surrounding pressures of media and materialism attempted to change this kid’s outward appearance, this singer, who eventually became the winner of American Idol, insisted, ‘I just wanna be me.’” His resistance to conformity made him an inspiration to millions of viewers all over the world.
In transitioning to his next story, Griffin stated, “Before the kid won American Idol, he worked as a pawn broker.” He pulled out a clunky gold pocket watch and reflected, “This was my grandmother’s gift to me for my high school graduation. It was my grandfather’s. He was my hero because he was a firefighter—he once saved a kid from a burning building!” As he reflected upon his grandmother’s kind words on the day in which he was in the same position as the MCA graduates, he began to take on the voice of his grandmother herself. He reflected, “She said to me, ‘This is your good luck charm. Don’t ever give this away. Every time you get down, pull it out and remember its message. Your dream is going to come true.’”
Paul Griffin admitted that after many years of rejection from various publishers, he attempted to sell the gold pocket watch not only for a monetary recompense, but also because he began to give up on his grandmother’s seemingly unrealistic words of wisdom. However, he decided to keep his grandfather’s pocket watch tucked away in his own little niche. After twenty years of rejection, he finally got that “magic yes” when he was 41 years old.
He reflected, “My dream was to make a living telling stories. I didn’t need to be living in a mansion in Manhattan—I just wanted to be able to take care of my family doing what I loved.” With his grandmother’s golden words and a whole lot of determination, Paul Griffin’s dream to be a storyteller came true.
After this heartfelt reflection, Paul Griffin returned his focus to the graduates dressed in blue. He then made his powerful commission: “When you walk out of here, it’s gonna be a challenge to make your dream come true. But whenever you feel down, I want you to think, ‘I come from triumph.’ Let your dream yell out of your heart.” As the graduates’ faces lit up, he concluded his speech with a clever but loving statement that powerfully resonated with every graduate: “You are not only gifted—you are gifts.”
So with three stories about three entirely different but equally influential individuals—a small-town kid who won American Idol, his very own grandfather, and himself—Paul Griffin commissioned these MCA graduates to pursue their own dreams—whether these dreams are singing, fighting fires, or telling stories—and to always keep their own gold pocket watches stowed away within their hearts as they began to venture out into the real world and beyond.
by Minji Lee