This year I had the incredible honor of being asked to deliver the keynote speech at my High School’s graduation. I was so floored and overwhelmed to be asked to go back and speak to the graduates of the school I graduated from. I was invited back to the school for a luncheon to meet the students prior to the day of graduation and it was such a surreal experience. It was the first time I had been back on the campus since I had been a student there myself and it put in to perspective how crazy and unpredictable life can be, in the best way. I went back to my 17 year old self and got to see my life now from her perspective and I don’t think I would have believed it if someone would have told me that this is where I would be. It took me some time to decide what to say, to think about what I would have needed to hear. After a great deal of thought, this is what I said:
First and foremost I want to thank you all for the incredible honor of inviting me here to speak at this momentous occasion in your lives. It was in 2004 that I sat exactly where you are sitting, graduating from this very high school, preparing to take on the next big adventure of my life. And let me tell you, I was an absolute nervous wreck.
I had somehow convinced myself that at 17 years old the choices that I made, what college to go to -what major to study, would be the be-all and end-all for the rest of my life. If I had somehow made a mistake in choosing the wrong major or the wrong school then well— I’d have to work a job i hated and accept a life of misery until it was time for retirement. I blame the drama on the fact that I’m an artist and that I was a teenager.
I know that today, many of you probably feel that same pressure. What I want you to understand is that first of all -that pressure is a good thing. It means that you care, it means that you have high expectations for your life. It means that you want to do important work and you want to leave a legacy. In a generation where somehow it has become cool to not care- caring makes you special, it makes you powerful.
I made the decision to go to college at Lehigh university after my graduation from LMG. I studied behavioral neuroscience and English and I loved every second of it. I was enraptured with psychology, neuroanatomy and classic literature. That degree went to incredible use, as now- I am a professional dancer, choreographer and influencer living in Los Angeles. Yes, Influencer- that’s a real job now.
Nowadays I only use the expertise I gained from studying for my degree when one of my friends is trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with their ex boyfriend…. Does that mean I regret going to college? Absolutely not. Heres why:
I’m here today to tell you that your life will be a series of choices. If you learn to trust yourself and to be resilient you will gracefully accept the consequences of the choices you make and continue to forge forward. The choice to acquire knowledge or be educated can never fail you. Intelligence is priceless.
You are all standing at the precipice of an incredible period of transformation. You are about to change and begin again. You will shed some of the old in order to make room for a new phase of your life. But this will not be the last phase of your life or the only period of change, absolutely not. It will be one of many. Your path will have many routes and reroutes and go back to square 1s. Each one will teach you a beautiful lesson and each lesson will help to elevate you to the next level of your life and potential.
Please be kind to yourself in this process and in all the phases of your life that are ahead of you. When I graduated college I knew that it was time for me to spend some time with the other great love of my life, Dance. I gave myself one year to pursue dance before I would go back to get a masters in Neuroscience. In that year, I booked my first job as a dancer for the NY Knicks and my career took off.
As a kid i used to to take the subway into Manhattan to take dance class and I would walk past Madison square garden and say to myself “someday I’ll perform in there.” My very first professional job became that someday…and somehow at 22 my life began to come full circle…but only because I honored the pull in my soul that said- “do not give up on that dream.”
I know this is what I am meant to be doing and I have found success only because I have been patient; because I learned to accept each challenge with grace and with honor, even when the result of those challenges looked like failures. I have been told “no” more times than I ever cared to count.
Failure is often the temporary result of the fearless pursuit of big dreams. We mustn’t fear the failures, but embrace them. They will be our greatest teachers. Your intelligence and resilience will allow you to adapt, adjust and bounce back stronger after every set back.
It is so important to have faith in your ability- and to trust the divine timing of your life. I know people always say to dream big and that’s a bit cliché. I would say dream bigger- bigger than the sky, and then leave a little bit more room for an even bigger dream than you could possibly imagine to take shape.
I have already to this day lived a life that has so far exceeded any dream I could’ve had for myself at your age — sitting in those seats. I’ve gone skydiving over Fiji, been on Safari in the Serengeti, went swimming with great white sharks off the coast of Capetown, sorry mom. I have performed on stage for 50,000 people in Madagascar and swung off the end of the earth in Ecuador.
It’s funny because I remember distinctly one afternoon when I was a senior in Mr. Wayner‘s AP History class here at LMG and we were looking at the pages of the textbook with pictures of France. I remember thinking to myself what a dream that would be to be there—but at the time it was such an out there idea, to think I could ever see a place like that in person.
Growing up my family was of limited financial means, we weren’t rich with money but we were rich with love. I called the airline and they said “You can’t pay for a ticket to France with love, kid”- so I had to let go of my Eiffel Tower filled aspirations and keep my mind off the crepes… and for a while, I did.
Then a few years later after graduating from college, when I concluded my contract with the NBA – I booked my second big dance job. And that dance job brought me on my first world tour- the very first stop? France.
I performed my choreography live on stage at the Bercy in the heart of Paris for 30,000 people. I went on to live in France for three months after that and I’ve had the pleasure to return seven times since then. I have since traveled to 55 countries and to 48 of our great states and I have never bought a plane ticket. So it turns out Love can fly you to France, and it can take you absolutely anywhere else on this earth that you want to go. Pursue your passions, trust that pull in your soul.
I think so often we rule out possibilities and limit our potential because we can’t see the immediate plan that could bring us to that major goal. Somehow though, when you live your life with integrity and make hard work and excellence your calling cards -life opens up and makes lanes for us towards what once seemed impossible.
I urge you to not set limits on your life or potential and to live every day filled with love. With the right mindset you can accomplish absolutely anything. It is my heart and passion for what I do that has carried me, not money in the bank or any other asset.
After several years of success in NY I knew it was time to push my boundaries and head west. 8 years ago I landed in California after a wild road trip across the country; for what would become the biggest challenge I was yet to face.
I hit the ground running, pretty much the only way I know how to hit the ground- and started booking work immediately despite knowing only one person in the whole state of California. 8 years ago social media was just starting to open up, Instagram was in its infancy and so I went after the only available route for professional dancers at that time. To audition in order to book jobs behind recording artists as a nameless back up dancer.
Very early on I became disillusioned with the process. I didn’t enjoy the audition culture and I didn’t feel I fit into the Hollywood scene quite right. I was unwilling to live uninspired or unhappy- So I had two choices, to quit dance and move on to something that was a better fit, or to create a lane where there wasn’t one.
Naturally, i wanted to go for the crazy build a new lane option B. Not only did I not love the audition process and lifestyle- I didn’t love the lifestyle after the work was booked. So much financial insecurity and lack of a voice in ones work along with a lot of mistreatment by bosses and higher ups. I didn’t like the game, so i decided to change it.
I saw potential in what was beginning to grow on social media platforms like YouTube… so I partnered with a like minded individual and got to work. It was the happiest and most creative I had been in a long time- up all night every night hatching up new concept ideas and then spending all day bringing them to life. At first, I caught a lot of opposition- people saying “ are u crazy?” “you’re not making any money” “ you have to get out and audition- that’s the way things are done.” And I would just pause and say to myself “for now.”
I didn’t know for sure if what I was helping to build would sink or swim but I knew that I felt alive and that that excitement was something that needed to be chased. For a little over a year I ignored the naysayers, kept my head down and kept laying my bricks. Those bricks would become the foundation on which I’ve built my brand.
Then one day, a video hit. The view count hit 1 million, 4 million, then 30 million. Then the whole industry sat up to pay attention- and all the tides began to turn in our favor. An industry that always needed to be chased down, started coming to us. Brands, artists, studios… everyone.
Now I have over a million people watching me across my platforms and I’m going to make sure I lead by example. First others in our industry asked why…? And then they asked -how?
Everywhere u go find the opportunity in the struggle. Don’t accept “that’s the way things are” as a permanent fact- the world is ever changing and you can easily be at the forefront of that change. Stay true to your vision- even if you are the only one that can see it. Don’t be afraid of criticism or hard work. If you see a need for something or a way to elevate, create or inspire- do it. Don’t get caught up in tunnel vision, or one way of thinking. Keep your mind open to all of life’s possibilities, even the ones that don’t exist yet.
I know that this age of social media can be a blessing and a curse- the blessing is in the connection and the curse is in getting caught up in comparison. This comparing yourself to others can breed a feeling of competition; A feeling like someone could just jump in and take something you love or care deeply about right out from under you at any moment or like other people are always doing things better or faster or more efficiently then you are.
But as you get older you really start to realize that what is meant for you, will never miss you. Your divine path, your calling, your highest purpose can only be lived by YOU. It can never be stolen from you or taken away from you or fulfilled by anyone other than you. When you realize that, you realize the competition has never and will never been with anyone outside of yourself.
Once you realize that you start to wish that the competition was with other people. Because let me tell you, the hardest battle of all is the one that you will fight with yourself. The battle to rid yourself of excuses and self doubt and negative habits – the battle that will ultimately teach you self-love, self respect, gratitude, resilience, integrity, humility, authenticity.
These are not easy traits to cultivate, but they are necessary for you to fulfill your highest purpose on this earth. It’s difficult to learn accountability, to learn that every loss and every win will be the sum total of your efforts and your heart. That your life will be YOUR responsibility- no one else’s. That is scary but it is also so empowering.
Use whatever talent, knowledge and skills you acquire throughout your life to reach out your hand and help those around you. Allow it to breed humility so that you don’t succumb to ego.
If you stay strong in this battle with your mind you will not only live a life of excellence but you will feel called to live a life of kindness and service. I have come to find that it is through one small act of kindness at a time that we construct a life of great significance.
Think about the people here who have lived their life in service of you. The teachers that have nurtured your education, that have brought you to this point where you can sit in a cap and gown with your entire future before you.
Think about the long hours they’ve spent and the love they’ve invested in service of your future. They have left an indelible mark on your life, they have left a legacy within each of you. It was my AP Bio teacher Mrs. Fanning that led me to want to pursue my love for science at University. She’s here tonight as my guest to support me, a friendship that has lasted 15 years- and a passion for science that will live within me throughout my lifetime.
Think about the people surrounding you, your families and friends that have served you throughout your life. Think about the fact that your family and loved ones are here to support you and clap for you and cheer you on during this moment of great success. My family is here too…my mom and dad have been beside me for every loss and every win, tonight is no exception. That support is not an easy thing to come by and that unfailing love of family, mentors and great friends is paramount.
Remember to lead with kindness and love within the walls of your home and anywhere else that you go. Remember that the people you surround yourself with will greatly affect your potential for success. Keep the people who genuinely love you close to you so that no matter how focused you become on where you’re going, you never lose site of where you come from.
I had the privilege of coming back to the school last month to meet and interact with some of you . I hadn’t been back on the grounds since I left in my cap and gown in 2004. I guess I half expected to come back to see kids on hover boards or something. That’s definitely not what I found- what i found was that you all looked SO much like me and my graduating class that halfway through the tour I had forgotten I wasn’t a student – I almost expected to turn the corner and run into my old friends hanging out by their lockers and laughing like we did in our senior year.
After speaking with a lot of you I found one of the things that scares you the most, is time. You feel like TIME is this big monster chasing after you and any minute the clock is going to run out. I get messages every day from kids your age who ask things like ..:“ I’m 18 and i want to pursue a career in dance, is it too late for me???” I always giggle to myself because you’re all just as dramatic as I was at your age and I respond – “how can it be too late for you??” If we have air in our lungs, it’s never too late – for any of us.
I know that feeling and I know that consciousness of the fact that this earthly experience is not permanent or promised. Your perspective will hold the key to finding the joy in the impermanence of life, rather than the fear in it. We are given this miraculous gift…Each morning don’t awake to the ticking of the clock and feel fear or pressure… feel gratitude for this privilege to be alive.
Understand that each day is another chance to make life better, to make it great. Use the time to pursue your passions, heal old wounds, connect with your family, laugh, eat good food, travel the world. Time is not promised, to any of us- and worrying about when the clock will run out out is the biggest waste of that precious time. Have fun with this life. Take every single chance to dance.
Im going to leave you now with one last story. My parents always loved to make me put on a show at every holiday and every party. My communion party was no different- my parents wanted a performance. Luckily, I was born an entertainer so I was easy to convince. I told my mom I needed two things – My fiery red unitard and the Song “Ya Gotta Be” by Des’ree. Trust me it was a hit and it had my favorite line ever -“ all i know is that love will save the day.”
The day of the big party came and in true procrastinator fashion, I had absolutely nothing prepared. I pulled my best friend into the restroom during the party and said “listen we’re gonna wing this thing and we’re gonna rock it.” She looked at me shocked and said, “let’s go.” We went on that floor and the music took over, my friend frantically tried to copy me while I freestyled each spin, kick and split. We were an absolute— hit. To this day its one of my favorite memories. Surrounded by the people I love, doing something I love- Thats what life is about. So you see- sometimes all you need is a good friend, good music, the right attitude and a killer outfit.