Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Remember the name, Jake Wood

Jake Wood is president of Team Rubicon disaster relief --  I do volunteer work for the organization.

He was recently asked to give the commencement speech to the University of Wisconsin's winter graduates. A local college newspaper bitched and moaned about not having a world-class speaker. Here's the link to the editorial. The following is my comment to the paper:

By what measure does one determine who qualifies as a top tier commencement speaker? Someone famous? Someone rich? Someone funny? Clearly someone who has created a revolutionary method for saving thousands more lives after a natural disaster doesn’t meet your high standards.

With a sense of entitlement so typical of college students, you threw a foot-stomping tantrum worthy of a pre-schooler to show your disappointment in Jake Wood, “Graduates from this world-class institution deserve a world-class speaker to see them off and a voice in what can be one of the most significant days of their lives.” 

Really, scout’s honor? You wouldn’t rather be entertained by a famous comedian from Saturday Night Live, followed by a world-class drunk with your friends afterward? You’re above that?

Does this mean you think there’s a better way to spend your twenties besides getting rich, getting hammered, and getting laid?

Then Jake Wood should be your speaker.

Do you honestly believe that greatness has nothing to do with money or cars, but everything to do with integrity and courage?

Then Jake Wood should be your speaker.

Can you imagine getting off your butt and doing something significant with your life besides Occupy Something?

Then Jake Wood should be your speaker. 

I reviewed two lists of all time top commencement speakers/speeches listed on Google. Only one speech made both lists. That’s more than Winston Churchill and JFK can say. The guy who showed up twice was Steve Jobs, who spoke at Stanford in 2005. How ironic that a college drop out was the only speaker to make both top tens. 

But there’s a greater irony. Actor Bradley Whitford made the all time top ten for the world-class speech he gave to the class of 2006 at. . .wait for it. . .the University of Wisconsin. I guarantee he wouldn’t have made your top ten world-class speaker list. And yet, there he was in Madison. And he managed to say a couple of things so worthwhile, he’s on the list of all time greats.

“Take action. Every story you’ve ever connected with, every leader you’ve ever admired, every puny little thing that you’ve ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life. Action is the antidote to apathy. . .You will inevitably make mistakes. . .At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop. Not by your stumble.”

If you think that Bradley Whitford is on the money, then Jake Wood should be your speaker. 

After graduation in 2005, Jake was one of the few graduates who didn’t think the world owed him a living. Instead he took action. First he joined the Marines – a direct result of 9-11. Before reporting for duty, Katrina hit Louisiana. Jake acted again. He borrowed his father’s pick up and drove to New Orleans to help out. During his four years in the Marines he served two tours, one in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. Unlike you, in the four years after his graduation he survived more danger, saw more death and lost more friends than you will likely experience in your lifetime.

And, unlike you and all the other top commencement speakers, except for Churchill and JFK, Jake is also a decorated combat vet. After his honorable discharge in October of 2009 he could have coasted through the rest of his life, getting his MBA and making a boatload of money. Three months later in January of 2010, the earthquake hit Haiti.  A day later Jake took action again and posted a message on his facebook page – “I’m going to Haiti. Who’s in?” The next day Team Rubicon was formed. In two weeks the group of veterans and medical personnel had raised over $250,000 in money and supplies using social media and helped over 3000 victims in Haiti – before the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups could get their acts together. And a paradigm shift in disaster relief was born – the rapid deployment of medical aid, using military skills and training to save lives during disasters. In the year and eleven months since Team Rubicon formed, the group has been on 12 missions to 9 countries on four continents.

Jake didn’t sit around waiting for the world to come to him. He acted.

Jake is only 28 years old. Not one of the top commencement speakers I read about had achieved what he has achieved by the time they were 28. He has not only performed acts of heroism on the battlefield but as the leader of Team Rubicon, he has made a heroic stand to provide 2.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with a meaningful transition from the military into civilian life -- using their skills and training to revolutionize disaster relief.

If you want your commencement day speaker to be someone who has made an actual contribution to the world from the day he graduated, whose life can be an inspiration to anyone with the cojones to put their money where their mouth is, then no one else but Jake Wood should be your speaker. 
Jake leading Team Rubicon in Joplin, MO -- helping with clean up after the tornadoes

Jake in Afghanistan as a scout/sniper


bettyl said...

Thanks for the eye opener. It's posts like yours that make blogging interesting.

LSC 530 said...

Right On! I'm doing volunteer work with Jake and Team Rubicon and believe his a heck of a lot better than 99% of the other speakers out there. He's real, he's young and he's making a heck of a positive impact on the world. Many of my students (I teach at UW) who attended the ceremony said Jake's speech was one of the most empowering they have ever heard. Plus, they felt they could truly relate to someone who is so young but is already having a big impact. It made them think of what they can accomplish in the next 5 years. Kudos to you, Jake and Team Rubicon. And ON Wisconsin!

janie germain said...

My son graduated Dec. 2011 from UW Madison and I was fortunate to be there for this speech! Jake Wood's speech was AMAZING! I think of it very many days of my life and it is 5 years later-think of all of the good he has brought to the world in those years! I often look up Team Rubicon for updates! What an inspiration! I would drive miles to hear him again.