May 10, 2015
Comedienne Carol Leifer brought Susquehanna University's Class of 2015 to its feet with a range of well-earned advice and wise-cracking anecdotes, but her theme remained the same-tenacity.
"When I sat where you are today, I was terrified of failure. And that fear can stop you dead in your tracks," Leifer said. "Yet the only way to become successful at anything is to fail. And here's the kicker-to fail over and over."
Leifer delivered the keynote address to 455 graduates at Susquehanna's 157th commencement held Sunday, May 10, in the field house of the James W. Garrett Sports Complex. The four-time Emmy nominee recalled her own experiences over 40 years in the entertainment business-including 22 auditions in 12 years for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson-and how time and again her determination paid dividends.
"I kept auditioning and auditioning, and they said no each and every time. But one night I went out, and lo and behold, they said yes," she said. "So keep your head down, stay in the game, but most important, don't take rejection personally."
She also stressed the importance of relationships, and of keeping their noses out of their smart phones.
"In my day, we were awkward and uncomfortable because there was no way around it. You didn't have a device, permanently attached to your hand, to bury your head in every three seconds when things got difficult or weird," she said. "So work on your social skills because, trust me, that's the foundation of any good career. You can be today's valedictorian, but if you're a bummer to be around, you won't last very long at any job, no matter how smart you are. "
Leifer received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Susquehanna University President L. Jay Lemons, as did Susquehanna Executive Vice President Emerita Sara Kirkland and retired Navy Admiral Jonathan Howe.
Leifer's appearance at Susquehanna honors the university's theme of humor for the 2014-15 academic year. Her remarks, while light-hearted, urged graduates to seize every opportunity they encounter-whether it's their dream job or not.
"Just get into the machine. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a runner who brought coffee into the writer's room ... eventually getting hired," she said. "So take those internships, take the job on the bottom rung of the totem pole. I've seen that person become top of the food chain more times than you could believe."
Before ending her remarks to the graduating class-and jokingly plugging her new book-Leifer gave the graduates one final push to reach for their dreams.
"Knock'em dead. Give'em hell. Kick butt and take names," she said. "I know I will hear great things from Susquehanna University's Class of 2015!"