My note to the 2020, 2021, and 2022 graduates.

It was an honor to be the keynote speaker at the The Art Institutes graduation ceremony in Central Texas. Particularly for these graduates who experienced 2+ years of a pandemic lockdown that no one has been through in recent history. I wanted to acknowledge their accomplishment in getting through. But also look to the road ahead.

Oen Michael Hammonds
2 min readAug 7, 2022
Oen standing at podium speaking into microphone.

“It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you all today. Many have been waiting for this moment for an additional one or two years. To finally cross the stage as a finish line to the first leg of your road trip.

During your time at the Art Institute, you have gone through all levels of emotions: from humor to anger, from joy to misery, from feeling accomplished to feeling defeated, from happiness and to now sadness as you go your separate ways. BUT I tell you to turn that sadness back into joy because you all MUST reflect on your accomplishments at the Art Institute.

You have formed bonds and connections that will last longer than you think.

You have learned more about yourself and your discipline than most people.

And you have met and faced more challenges than most.

But, you have one more challenge to face, yourself. As you go out to the world, your biggest challenge isn’t someone else. It’s the ache and burning in your heart, and the little voice inside your head yells, “I CAN’T.” But you don’t listen.

YOU just push harder.

And then you hear the voice whisper, “I CAN.”

You will discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the person you really are.

I can provide many words of wisdom that I hope will stick with you. But, these are three words that I carry with me every day from my moms, who raised three kids in inner-city Projects of Louisville, KY:

The first is grit.

Toughness and resolve are a requirement. The work you do will be highly challenging but equally rewarding.

The second is love.

The world needs more people with heart and with empathy.

You must love what you do and who you’re doing it for.

But we also need folks who can balance that with a healthy dose of humility.

We need people who can be curious and vulnerable — who aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Who isn’t too proud to ask for help or consider that someone else’s idea might be better.

Be bold.

Be proud.

Never doubt yourself. Walk boldly on that road ahead no matter where it takes you. It’s now on you to spread what you have learned.

Congratulations, graduates, on what you have accomplished, and good luck on your road ahead.”