Commencement Address

I had the privilege of addressing the December 2008 Graduates of my Alma Mater, Lipscomb University on December 20, 2008. The follow are my comments to the graduating class. I recently mentioned the TR story in an interview with International Artist Magazine and realized it would be appropriate for the graduates as well. As artists, we have to tackle problems with our work head on if we are going to grow….there are no shortcuts in the life of a working artist… or as a human being!

Address to Graduates, December 2008

Thank you President Lowery, distinguished trustees, faculty, and alumni, proud parents, grandparents, friends, and members of the Class of 2008. I am profoundly honored to receive the Young Alumnus of the Year Award. I want to thank Lipscomb and the Alumni Association for this wonderful honor. I love this university and it has meant so much to my family and me. It is where I found my career, my wife and where I made so many friendships that still endure today. There is no doubt that the time I spent here set me set on a path that I still travel today and I am deeply grateful.

To the December Graduating Class of 2008… CONGRATULATIONS! This is an exciting day and I thank you for allowing me to share this time with you.

I was also a December graduate not that long ago. Since that time I have been a working artist.
I have the opportunity to meet some amazing people in my life as a portrait painter. Painting them often helps me to grow as a person as I learn about their lives, their success and failures.

Recently I had the chance to paint Teddy Roosevelt for the Roosevelt House in Washington DC. He is one of my hero’s…and heroes are important.

TR liked to do something he called “POINT TO POINT” walks. He would pick a point to start, another point as the destination and then map a perfectly straight line between the two.

He had one VERY firm rule. If you encounter an obstacle along the way…an obstruction… You can go over it, under it, but NEVER around it!!!

He also sometimes went through it! —

Once while President he took the Ambassador of France on a point-to-point walk late one evening.
On the hike they came to the Potomac River. The president said something like, “Well, Mr. Ambassador—our destination is on the other side, so well just have to strip off our clothes, bundle them up and swim across.” Wanting to please the President and knowing they were under the cover of darkness, the Ambassador did them same. As they waded in to the water the President looked back and noticed the Ambassador was still wearing his white gloves!!!!!

TR said “”Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Ambassador, you haven’t taken off your gloves,” to which he promptly responded, “I think I will leave them on; we might meet ladies!”

TODAY is end of one era of your life, and the starting POINT of another.

Make sure you begin with knowing what your PASSION is—some of you have found it, others are still looking. Take it from me there is nothing like waking up every day and loving going to work. Dream BIG!

Then set a GOAL—

Be willing to work hard, ask for help along the way (find a mentor), be patient, and FOCUS, FOCUS always on your goal.

Along the way, you are going to hit some bumps in the road– some OBSTRUCTIONS—just like TR did on his POINT-TO-POINT walks. Remember over, under, but never around.

Without exception, the most successful people I have painted have been those who encountered many obstacles, but always confronted them head on and conquered them!

People like Sandra Day O’Connor—finished near the top of her class in law school, but was only offered jobs as a secretary when she left school in the 1950’s. She later became the first woman Supreme Court Justice.

Or Wallace Coulter. You probably don’t know the name. While trying to develop a machine that would count the molecules of paint in an effort to make paint stronger and stick better to U.S. Navy ships (and nearly running out of money in his little make shift lab in Chicago), one day he wondered if his device could count blood cells as well. Now, 60 years later—Every time you have blood drawn for a blood cell count, they use a COULTER COUNTER.

Or Senator Robert C. Byrd who grew up with adopted parents, poor, in a coal-mining town of West Virginia. He became the longest serving, brightest and arguably most powerful member of the US Senate in our history.

None of them had an easy road, but none of them let an obstacle stop them as they worked toward their goals. As they know and TR insisted…

Tackling problems instead of avoiding them or going around them BUILDS CHARACTER and WISDOM.
There are NO SHORT CUTS—no cutting corners to achieve success.
It may take time…many of you will work ten years to achieve over night success!

Also, as my mentor and friend Ray Kinstler has reminded me: don’t forget to be yourself and know who YOU are! —

Do you think I care if you don’t like my shoes or not!?!

I was in NYC last week to paint a famous actress named Marian Seldes—she is receiving a gold medal next spring for her lifetime of achievements in film and theater. You would know her face, but maybe not her name. Although she has been played major rolls in such films as “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and won Tony’s for her work on Broadway—You might remember her as the grumpy old lady in the movie Home Alone 3 who gives Alex the toy car the crooks are after.

While we were sitting chatting in her apartment, she said to me—

“You know these are uncertain times and so many people are worried, but not me. Last week a friend of mine said she lost 80,000 dollars last month. She said her response was “you had 80,000 dollars to loose? She went on saying, “Do you know why some people are worried,” because money is what defines them—

“But we are not defined by money—we are artists—we are defined by WHO we are and the WORK we produce.”

Don’t let the other people, the TV, or magazines define you—know who you are and be yourself.

Finally–Remember what you have learned here.

You have not just had an education, but a CHRISTIAN education—
A positive, Christian perspective that will keep you on a firm foundation while you travel on the path you set. Always ask God to travel with you, build a strong relationship with Him and he will steady you if you feel you are loosing your way, he will help you when you meet an obstacle you have to confront and conquer. You can’t do it alone. You will need the love of GOD and the love of your family and friends. Although you will achieve many things—None is more meaningful than your relationship with HIM and those you love.

So…Start with your passion, draw a straight line to your goals, confront challenges head on—and always work the hardest at strengthening your relationship with GOD and your family and friends.

As TR also said once to a graduating class “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground!”

God Bless and good luck!

10 Responses to Commencement Address
  1. Mitch Mann

    Hi Shane,

    I just read your address. Those were great words of challenge and encouragement. As we paint the effects of light, may we seek the face of Him who is truly “the Light of the world”. Take care!

    Mitch

  2. Art Lady

    Hey Shane – I am, (as always), going to thank you for sharing your wonderful, intelligent allegories. And I truly love that you always remind us who is the greatest Artist of all. When are you going to put all this in a book man?????
    Best Wishes to you and your beautiful family for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!
    Terry in Wisconsin

  3. Peggi Habets

    Hi Shane,
    Well I graduated in 1986, but only recently started my painting career, so your words were as insightful and inspiring to me, as I’m sure, to the class that you spoke to. Thanks!

  4. Joan Breckwoldt

    Dear Shane,
    I am delighted to have discovered your blog! I have admired your portraits, how wonderful for me to discover the voice behind them.
    I just read your speech and found it very refreshing and inspirational. And I am so happy that these young people are getting a Christian message. I try to glorify Him with my paintings and your message will inspire me to continue searching for the best way to do that. I have bookmarked your blog to visit regularly. Best wishes for a happy new year!
    Joan

  5. sarahparks

    Hi, Shane. Inspiring message you gave. I hope everyone who heard it will take it to heart.

  6. MIchael Shane Neal

    Thanks Mitch! So looking forward to the workshop this summer!

  7. MIchael Shane Neal

    Hey Terry! Thanks for your note and the brushes!! Received them yesterday. I’ll be in touch asap.
    Hugs xS

  8. MIchael Shane Neal

    Thanks so much Peggi…so excited about your new career!! Good luck!

  9. MIchael Shane Neal

    Hi Joan–Thanks for your note and bookmarking my blog. I think the students at Lipscomb are a blessed group and so fortunate to have had such a well rounded education. Especially in the world today. Best to you, Shane

  10. MIchael Shane Neal

    Thanks so much Sara. And thanks for stopping in. X