Martha Fernandez, College of the Arts' Distinguished Alumni Awardee, Tells Class of 2013 to Work Hard, Network and Live Fearlessly

Photo by Mike Peters

Alumna Martha Fernandez, '02 Broadcasting major, addresses graduates at the College of the Arts' Convocation after receiving the College's Distinguished Alumni Award.

Below is the speech given by alumna Martha Fernandez, a 2002 Broadcasting major, who received the College of the Arts' Distinguished Alumni Award during the College's Convocation May 21 at Sprague Field.

Congratulations Class of 2013! I want to thank President Cole and Dean Gurskis -  I’m honored to have been selected to receive this award and it’s great being back here where I started on my path to realizing my dreams.

Before I get into my speech I want to say a very special "thank you" to three people who were instrumental in giving me the tools I needed to succeed – not sure if they even realize how grateful I am since I ran out of here when I graduated and jumped on a plane to Los Angeles.  So, to Larry Londino, Patty Piroh, David Sanders and everyone at the Montclair State University Department of Broadcasting: The debt I owe you, I can never repay, so I’ll just say a very heartfelt "Thank you."

When I got the call to come back and say a few words to you all – I won’t lie, it caused me lots of anxiety. What do I say? What do you want to hear? What do you need to hear?  After giving it lots of thought, I decided to write all of you a letter and give you some of the advice I wish I got when I graduated, plus some of the lessons I learned along the way…

I promise this will be short.

Dear Graduates,

If you get the opportunity to move – take it. I realize this is drastic for some of you, but you’ll never again be in a place where you can just pick up and go.  As the years go by, it will become harder and harder to uproot your lives. So go. See new places, meet new people, and explore career options that aren’t available to you here. You might move right back in a few years – but that’s OK. The fact you went out there in the first place means that you’ll never have that little voice in the back of your head saying, "What if…”

Don’t Play it Safe.  Some of the most unhappy people I’ve run into are the ones that stayed safely cocooned inside their expected career tracks, never threw caution to the wind and did something crazy.  Take a terrible [expletive deleted] job, actually take a few of them. The lessons you learn in a terrible job are as valuable as what you learn in a great one.  Your mistakes, your failures your successes will be some of the first things you can truly call your own. Learn from all of them.

One of the most valuable tips I can give you, I learned right here at Montclair State from Patty Piroh: Network. Stay in touch with the brilliant, creative, hardworking people you’ll come across in your travels. You will grow together and these relationships will come back into your life in their new reiterations.   

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have it all figured out. Learn to be at peace with uncertainty.  Clarity comes with time and, often, only in hindsight. Find out what you love to do, set goals and work toward those goals. Somewhere along the line, it will all click into place. No one piece of paper is going to clear up the rest of your life, so, be confused, it’s expected and it’s OK.

This one’s a no-brainer but it has to be said…work hard.  The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.  There is no magic pill. There is no secret. Your dreams won’t materialize by you staring at your vision board. Don’t wait for someone to pay you for doing what you love. If you’re a writer, write. If you are a director, go and produce your own short film. If you are like me and want to work in development, read every script you can get your hands on. No matter where your interests lie, don’t wait for someone to pay you to chase your dreams. Do it for free, do it every night, do it on the weekends. Whatever industry you chose to enter can be overwhelming and it is, very often, unfair but, if there is any formula for success, it is this - preparation plus luck.  The latter you can’t control, so focus your time, passion and drive on the former. So when your chance finally comes, and it will, you’ll be ready.

And finally…if you remember nothing else I’ve said, remember this: Live Fearlessly!

Congratulations Class of 2013 – I wish you all success!