As the term comes to a close, Chef Weiner shares a commencement speech he delivered to graduates who were not culinary-arts students. In it, he dispensed with niceties to instead offer a generous helping of reality.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
If you are a regular reader of “50-Minute Classroom,” you know I believe our job as culinary teachers is not to merely teach cooking. Our job is to use cooking as a tool to help our students succeed in the world. In fact, at CAFÉ’s 10th-annual Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City next month, I am hosting a roundtable discussion on the importance of teaching students the essential combination of life and job skills.
In January I was asked to be the lead speaker at a graduation ceremony for a halfway-house program in my county because of the success I’ve had with teaching and getting jobs for people. Although I have spoken at numerous events about food and teaching, I have never spoken at a graduation other than for culinary students. I spent some time talking with my wife, and I came up with what I wanted to say. What’s interesting is that it wasn’t a “rah-rah you did great” speech, but a speech on reality.
For many of you, your classroom year will be ending soon. It will be time for some or most of your students to start looking for a job. Many of your students will have skeletons, issues and limitations that they will need to overcome to make it in the working world. Your students need you to inspire them, to motivate them and, more importantly, to cut off making excuses. The next paragraph starts a modified version of my recent graduation address. Please feel free to modify it as appropriate and present it to your students.
“Today you will be completing a major step in your life. You have worked hard. You probably were reluctant when you came here. You probably thought that you knew it all and didn’t need anyone else to help you. You probably looked down on the people sitting next with you. You probably spent more time looking down on your counselors, advisors and teachers. You changed. You realized that you were in charge of your destiny. You were the key to your success. Remember that: You are the key to your success.
“I am stressing this point, let me say it again: You are the key to your success. The reason I keep repeating it is that you will have doors slammed in your face. Because of your record, because of your drug or alcohol use, because of other factors that you have overcome, doors will be slammed in your face. Painful to hear, but true.
“You have two choices. You can slip back into your old habits because of these door closings. You can end up back in jail and blame it on the closed doors. That would be the easy way out. But by graduating today you have shown to your parents, your spouses, your boyfriends and girlfriends, and your children that you don’t take the easy way out. And you won’t take the easy way out now.
“When a door closes, move on. Don’t give it a second thought. Look for the open door. If you don’t find it at first, keep looking. It is there. And, when that door opens, run into it at full speed. Close it behind you and don’t look back.
“But that’s not where it ends, that is only the beginning. Let’s say you are hired as a dishwasher. Prove to your boss that you are the best darn dishwasher that she has ever seen. Get to work early, stay late, have a “yes I can” attitude. Show up every day. Don’t make excuses. You will, with that attitude and drive, soon be promoted.
“Let’s say you get promoted to a prep cook. Show your boss you are the best darn prep cook she has ever seen. Soon you will be a line cook, soon you will be a sous chef, and if you keep it up, you will be the boss.
“Don’t believe me? Chef Jeff Henderson was the number-one crack dealer in San Diego County when he was 21. He got arrested and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. He rose to the top of the kitchen crew in prison, but when he got out he had to struggle to get a job as a dishwasher. He took that dishwashing job and within a few years he became the executive chef at Bellagio Café in the Hotel Bellagio in Las Vegas. He got a series on Food Network and several television shows since. He has had several books on The New York Times Best Seller List.
How did he do this? He didn’t look back at closed doors. He raced into each open door with the attitude that he was going to prove himself to his co-workers, his boss and himself.
“In closing, remember that your destiny is up to you. You can achieve great things. The way to start is find the open door and go for it. Prove to your friends, your family, the police and sheriffs and, most importantly, yourself. Not that you can succeed, but THAT YOU WILL SUCCEED.”
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.