Wyclef Jean’s Commencement Speech – His American Dream

Wyclef Jean

As many of you know, I serve as Coordinator of International Services at Western Connecticut State University.  I have the pleasure of working international students coming to the US and with study abroad students leaving the US.  In addition, I am an active member of the International Center and we work as a team to bring as much international programming as possible to campus.

Last summer, my colleague in the President’s office mentioned that the university was interested in a commencement speaker in the Arts. I mentioned a few fine musicians that I know in the area.  I casually mentioned that Tony Zeoli from Digital Strategy Works (my web guru) may have some connections through his music industry background.  Suddenly, the words Wyclef Jean slipped from my mouth, as I knew that Tony Zeoli had a dear friend who is from Haiti who had some sort of connection in that world of Haitian music.  Needless to say, the President’s office was keen – could we really get Wyclef? The university worked tirelessly to make it happen once the introductions were made through Digital Strategy Works.

WCSU had selected Wyclef because of his humanitarian work in Haiti and also because of his incredible gift of sharing music across cultures.  Fast forward to January 2010.  This was no minor earthquake – this was an earthquake to end all earthquakes.

But how could we help? We all struggled with this question as we watched the live footage of death, despair and lives torn apart. What could we, as a campus, do to show our support?  I’m pleased to say that WCSU acted swiftly and formed a group to support Haiti within days of the earthquake. Students, faculty, staff and community members hosted a range of fundraising events, raising $9500 for Yele Haiti, the not for profit founded by Wyclef.  We watched the news and destruction, and it motivated this incredible campus to fundraise despite the difficult economy.  I don’t think I could be more proud of the response to such a need for humanitarian aid.  It is moments like these that we feel empowered to act and to do more than we knew we were capable of.  We needed to, it was that simple.

In late May, Wyclef delivered his first ever commencement speech at WCSU.  Ironically, I was scheduled to be out of town that weekend (argh!) and was not there, but am thankful for the following video put on youtube by Wyclef’s fine marketing machine.  Upon my return to campus after commencement, I repeatedly heard from colleagues about how kind, easy going, accommodating, and ego-less Wyclef is in person.  As you’ll see in the following video clip, his “real talk” and humor inspired our students to think about their futures despite the rough economy.  He asked the hard questions: “What do you see?” and “What are you going to do when you get it?” Wyclef Jean chose to go back to Haiti to help the less fortunate and I’m certain that his works in Haiti are his proudest moments in his life, more than Grammys and filled houses at Madison Square Garden.

Listen in for some inspiration:

And if you haven’t heard his music, you must check out this beautiful video from the 2009 Nobel Peace Price performance in Norway. (Skip to 4 minutes in for an incredibly moving  performance of “Sweetest Girl.”)