Port Jefferson native Clinton Kelly, star of TLC’s What Not to Wear, ABC-TV’s The Chew, Macy’s spokesperson and author of Freakin’ Fabulous on a Budget, was invited back to his old stomping grounds, Comsewogue High School, to give the commencement address Thursday June 26.
Even though he says, “High school was not my thing,” he was thrilled by the warm welcome he received from the crowd of parents, teachers and students, and excited to extend his thoughts on how to be “ridiculously happy.”
“I set it up as ‘How to be rich and famous,’ Kelly told the Press, “because, I figured that when I was 18, that’s all I would have listened to.”
His advice to graduates:
1. “Dump the jerks.
There are people in your life who make you feel great about yourself and you should keep them around for as long as possible. But there are people who drain your life force, because making you feel empty makes them feel full. Get those negative energies out of your life.
2. “It’s in your own best interest to be a nice person.
Yes, of course it’s the right thing to do, but nice people really do get ahead in life, in their careers, and they end up looking better in the long run. How do you tell an 18-year-old to be nice? You tell them because it’s going to get them richer, which it might possibly do. Or at their 20-year high school reunion, the nice people look a hell of a lot better than the jerks.
3. “Forget everything bad that has ever happened to you.
Of course, that’s impossible to do, but I believe people should aspire to it only because the energy that you spend with your head in the past will never get you any closer to your future dreams for yourself. Yes, of course you can think about the past and mistakes that you’ve made, but there’s absolutely no reason to dwell on those mistakes. Keep pushing forward and think about the future.
4. “You gotta do what you love.
It’s as simple as that. If you’re going off to college to study accounting because you love numbers and spreadsheets and tax law, that’s awesome. But if you’re going off to college to study accounting because you parents want you to study accounting, you’re going to be screwed. Because you’re going to have to work for about 45 years before you get to retire and that’s a long time. So you should be doing something that you love.
5. “Don’t drink and drive, don’t smoke, don’t roast in the sun, don’t do crystal meth, don’t have unprotected sex.”
Kelly considered advice offered to him, navigating the rough seas of adolescence and early adulthood, seeing which paths to take in his own life. The best advice was given to him in the eighth grade by his junior high school guidance counselor. When he saw her at graduation, he was able to say, “You changed my life.”
Her words of wisdom might sound generic, but it touched a nerve at precisely the time he needed to hear it.
“She told me, ‘You know, I’ve gotten to know you a little bit and I see your test scores and you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ That was the sentence,” he said. “And it’s been ringing in my brain for 30+ years. For some reason it just struck me as so profoundly true at the time. I never forgot it. I still believe it. If I put my mind to something, I’m gonna do it. It’s just a matter of deciding what you’re going to put your mind to.”
His parents were the providers of what he considers the worst advice, although he prefaces that statement by saying that they also gave him plenty of the good stuff. But students listening to other commencement speakers might have heard what he considers the bad advice. His mom and dad sat him down after graduation and warned him to “have something to fall back on.” Familiar words offered at times to the very best of us.
“There’s something about having something to fall back on which is fear-based. It’s basically saying, ‘Well, if your dream doesn’t work out, then at least you’ll be able to do something else,’” he explains. “There’s something to it that says to me if you’re spending your energy on the fallback position, then you’re not spending your energy on your dream and that’s maybe not the best way to go about it.”
If you have a dream, Clinton Kelly says go for it, full-steam ahead. Figure out what it is you want and put all of your energy into achieving it, without the downward pull of negative friends, memories, or doubts.
And through it all, take heart the motto by which he lives his life: