You are the key to your success. Find that open career door and run full speed through it.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
Regular readers of 50 Minute Classroom know I believe our job as culinary teachers is not to merely teach cooking. Our job is to use cooking as a tool to help our students succeed in the world.
For many of you, your classroom has been closed and your school’s calendar year will be ending soon. It will be time for some or most of your students to start looking for a job. At the best of times, this is scary for your students. Now with the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, it must be downright frightening. More than ever, students need you to inspire, motivate and reassure them they have what it takes.
I thought it would be useful to provide you with a good draft of a (virtual) completion ceremony speech for their culinary class or program. Please feel free to modify it as appropriate for the needs and circumstances of your students and your community.
“Soon you will be completing a major step in your life. You have worked hard. You might have been reluctant when you arrived here. You may have thought you knew it all and did not need anyone else to help you. You probably looked down on the people sitting next to you. You probably spent more time looking down on your counselors, advisors and teachers. You changed. You realized you were in charge of your destiny. You were the key to your success, not only in the culinary program but in your life. Remember that: You are the key to your success.
“I am stressing this point. Let me say it again: You are the key to your success. The reason I keep repeating it is you will have doors slammed in your face. Most graduation speakers will tell you the world is wide open to you. Go out and grab the fruit from the trees. The world is an oyster waiting for you to open it and find a pearl. I do not know if that was ever fully true, but it certainly is not now. Through no fault of yours, doors will be slammed in your face. You did not create the current problems sweeping our community and the entire country. But you must deal with them. Painful to hear, but true.
“You have two choices. You can sit back, do nothing, and blame everyone and everything else for the troubles. Or, you can use the skills you have learned in the culinary program here at __________________ that have prepared and trained you to not take the easy way out.
“When a door closes, move on. Do not give it a second thought. Look for the open door. If you don’t find it at first, keep looking. It is there. And, when that door opens, run into it at full speed. Close it behind you and don’t look back. As you start looking for that first job, and you might have to wait to even do that, you will have doors closed but remember, soon there will be an open door.
“But that’s not where it ends, that is only the beginning. Let’s say you are hired as a dishwasher. Prove to your boss you are the best darn dishwasher she has ever seen. Get to work early, stay late, have a ‘yes I can’ attitude. Show up every day. Don’t make excuses. You will, with that attitude and drive, soon be promoted.
“Let’s say you get promoted to a prep cook. Show your boss you are the best darn prep cook she has ever seen. Soon you will be a line cook, soon you will be a sous chef, and if you keep it up, you will be the boss.
“In the culinary industry, from the smallest restaurant to the largest corporate dining facilities, kitchens are full of people who started as dishwashers and worked their way up. Don’t believe me? Thomas Keller has consistently ranked as one of the absolute top chefs and restaurant owners in the world since 1994. He owns more than 10 restaurants and bakeries (all multi-award winning) in Napa, New York, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and Miami. He started out in the back of his mom’s restaurant kitchen and then took a job as a dishwasher in the Palm Beach Yacht Club. From that lowly start, he and The French Laundry won the award of Best Restaurant in the World in 2004 and again in 2005.
“In closing, remember your destiny is up to you. You can achieve great things. The way to start is find the open door and go for it. Prove to your friends, your family, and, most importantly, yourself. Not that you think ‘you can succeed.’ Think and know that in spite of the situation now, YOU WILL SUCCEED.”
Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.