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Keynote for CCHS 27 June 2016

27 June 2016
a Commencement Speech
for the Graduates and Beautiful, Great kids of Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music

Though delivered just 3 days after the funeral,
this speech was written prior to the eulogy written for my Father.  
It was slightly edited before delivering it on the 27th.

Prelude:  In the score notes to “CRUZIN’… for there is much to dare,” are these words by Howard Walter in 1906.  

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave,
for there is much to dare.

In just 2 short months since being asked to deliver this 1st commencement speech I’ve ever done... and I do hope to honor you... there have been some Global Goliaths:  Orlando, the British leaving the European Union, Floods and disasters.  These “Global Goliaths” will change names but these many things will be with you all throughout your lives.

Keep that in mind.

Life is short, but very wide.  Here are just a few personal things that happened in the brief Time between being asked to speak to you less than 2 months ago and now. 

Dame Mary Barraco got pneumonia.  She’s 92. She was a POW of the NAZIs when she was your age.  She had her teeth broken, her back was bared to the bone and much worse.  She was sterilized.  She watched her fiancé executed.  She survived all of that to become a Freedom Fighter in Belgium at age 17. Belgium knighted her for her service in WWII.  She survived pneumonia and is still with us... carrying on.

Keep that in mind.

A 7-year-old girl named Anaya Elick from Chesapeake, VA, won a “Best Handwriting Contest.”  She has no hands. 

Keep that in mind.

Over those 2 months, completing a film score, I quoted my favorite mathematician, Kurt Gödel, many times to several people, all of whom seemed to have the same name of… “David.” Gödel authored an axiom that paraphrased says, “if you devise an axiom, the opposite is also probably true.”  Here’s a demo:  “Haste makes waste.”  But… “He who hesitates is lost.”  Or one of my favorites:  “Two heads are better than one.”  But the Chinese say, “Tie two birds together and though they have four wings, they cannot fly.” 

Keep Kurt Gödel in mind.

My Father, already pummeled by his 2nd bout with Cancer got pneumonia and went into NY Presbyterian ICU not once but twice, and came out smiling, ready to start his 15-hour work days again.  He turned 81 on May 31st, which is more than four of your complete Lifetimes.  I had wanted him to be here, but sadly he passed away on Father’s Day.  We buried him just 3 days ago.  I share this with you to bring as much poignancy as possible to this moment.  For your sake, I want these words to ring True.  They come from my Heart.

Keep that in mind.

When I graduated from high school, our commencement speaker was Geraldo Rivera.  We were outside.  It was hot.  I was sitting in the band.  We played “Pomp & Circumstance” 20 times.  Prepping for this moment together, I tried to remember what he said, but I couldn’t remember a single word.

When I look back… and it’s 41 years now... what words do I wish I had heard?  What words would have provided vision and strength in the great struggles and battles ahead?

Main Theme…

Of all the many many stories I could share with you, I want to tell you about “David and Goliath.”

You think you know this story, right?  The little guy, the underdog who faces the overpowering, menacing Goliath and wins?

But let’s look at that same story the way Kurt Gödel might have looked at it, or Anaya Elick, the girl born without hands… or my Dad, who doctors had written off more than once in the hospital but died his way working at home.  

And THIS is my message to you graduates today!

David was not the underdog.  Goliath was.

Little David had the deck stacked completely in his favor, and he had won that battle long before stepping onto the field.

David was young. Light! Quick-moving.  He wasn’t weighed down by cumbersome armor the way poor old Goliath was.  David was well-trained.  During his years as a shepherd he was practiced in the use of the sling, a weapon that could strike from tens-of-yards away instead of just a few feet like a heavy sword.

David had so much on his side!  To Goliath’s slow, was David’s fast.  To Goliath’s clumsy movement was David’s grace and Bruce Lee-like-stealth. David had already defeated a lion and a bear!  Poor poor Goliath.  He was big, but only a human being... certainly no lion or bear! The guy never had a chance.  Can you see it now?  

And David had one other thing, one transcendent, massively immeasurable thing that made him the winner even before the confrontation would begin!  To Goliath’s arrogance and assumption of Victory, David had Faith

David believed in something higher than himself.  That belief gave him Purpose, and Purpose gives a person great Strength.  It makes him or her a Survivor… a “freedom fighter!”  As I have recently seen lived out in my Dad, and heard from many an ex-POW… “It’s hard to kill a Man if he don’t wanna die.”

So Take Heart!

We live in a matrix-like world where attempts to control the future and present are made by the rewriting of History…  so you need to go and study the Past, for the sake of the Now and the Future.  You are its story-tellers, You are its documentarians!  You do it with Music!

I know people who are literally waiting for those who have lived their incredible Stories to die, so that in their re-telling they can be un-encumbered with little trifles like the Truth. 

We also live in a political-technological world where a handful of Goliaths have their paws on the reigns, and many of those Goliaths will stand as obstacles to you in YOUR personal quest to be True!

As Rocky Balboa would say, “Life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”

So get ready for rough roads ahead.  But be inspired! … because there can be no DAVID without a Goliath.

Be grateful for the Goliaths you will meet!  And yes, you will confront many!

When you hear someone spout a normally, quickly accepted ”truism” like, “well, the world is gray, nothing is black and white,” hoist an imaginary red-flag in your mind.  Is there an opposite? Can that opposite also be true? 

Or how about this one, “When you grow up, you’ll see how the world really works, and you too will sell out…” 

(I’ve actually heard that countless times in my Life.)

You think Kurt Gödel might help you?  To visit all the potentials within your own mind?

If you came into this world metaphorically without hands… can you still win a hand writing contest?

And… can you be down for the count not once, not twice, not three times, but on and on and on… and get up to work 15-18 hour days in your 80s and 90s, four Lifetimes from now?
Seems a long way off, but I’ll bet this graduation felt that way to you just 4 short years ago.  Right?  

You see… Time is short. Life is short…. but thankfully, it’s really wide! 

In your Music-making, in whatever form that takes…You need to fight the Good fight so that those who follow you will be inspired.  They need to look at you and see DAVID.  They need to see in you that Goliath really never ever had the ghost of a chance. It just seemed that way.

So, my friends… in the Times ahead, be DAVID… because you already are.  Keep David alive within you. BE well-trained, BE well-practiced… as you are right now.  

… and above all, keep the Faith!


You must be true, for there are those who trust you;
You must be pure, for there are those who care;
You must be strong, for there is much to suffer;
You must be brave…

for there is much to dare.

I love you guys. Thank you for allowing me the great honor and privilege of making Music with you and speaking with you.

Godspeed into your Futures!

Stephen Melillo


DAVID at the STORMSite

Comments Section

I have been out of high school for 37 years now. I wish I had someone with your wisdom speak at my graduation. Your words are so true and an inspiration to young minds just beginning their musical careers and to old timers like me. You don't just inspire us to be better musicians but to be better people. Thank you for your gifts of encouragement and for your beautiful music that makes me feel closer to God,

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