The following speech was delivered on May 19, 2014 as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement ceremonies.
Thank you. Thank you so much. Good morning. And congratulations!
Now I’ll try to be brief this morning. As a musician, this is about 10 hours before I normally go to work, so I’m gonna need a nap soon. And you’ve got degrees to receive.
And I also have a feeling some of you are already tired of me. The thing about pop radio in America, somehow they’ve scientifically determined that the public is only capable of liking the same 10 songs at any given time, so they simply play those songs over and over and over until you’re finally completely exasperated. Then they move on…
I’ve had a 10-year career as a solo artist and none of my songs has ever been one of those 10 songs. Until this moment. And now “all of you, are so over me, you’re tired of hearing that I went to Penn. Why’d they bring him back again?” (sung to the tune of “All of Me” chorus)
That was my humblebrag way of saying I have the biggest song in the country. Very artful, wouldn’t you say?
But, honestly, I am truly humbled and honored and grateful to be here at the commencement of one of the finest universities on the planet. I first visited this campus as a high school senior named John Stephens in 1995 — 19 years ago — and I would have never thought at that moment that I would be standing here as John Legend, speaking to you today.
The reason I’m here, the reason I’ve had such a wonderful journey so far, is that I’ve found love. Yes, love. We were all made to love. And I’ve found that we live our best lives, we are at our most successful, not simply because we’re smarter than everyone else, or because we hustle harder. Not because we become millionaires more quickly. The key to success, the key to happiness, is opening your mind and your heart to love. Spending your time doing things you love and with people you love.
My life could have gone differently though. At first, I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in a small blue-collar city called Springfield, Ohio. I was surrounded by family, including 2 loving parents who cared so much about our education that they home-schooled us for several years during grade school. And they took the time to teach us more than academics. They taught us about character, about what it meant to live a good life.