August 28, 2012 – the Georgetown College Opening Convocation Speech of 1992 graduate Tony Carney
When I began thinking about what I wanted to say to all of you today, I decided to start by making a list of all the (what I think to be) cool things I’ve experienced in my life. But before I start with that list, I have to say…….of all the “cool” experiences in my life, I’ve never had the “cool” experience of standing in front of an auditorium full of people giving a speech…..while wearing a black dress. So, thank you, Dr. Crouch for inviting me to speak specifically on a day when we are required to wear these gowns. I can now check that off my list.
I’m going to spend a little time with you today telling you my life story. However, if you don’t mind, I’m not going to tell it in chronological order. I’d like to start from the day I graduated from Georgetown in 1992 & work my way up to the present. Then I’m going to go ALL THE WAY back to my early childhood & work my way UP TO Georgetown. And finally, I’m going to focus on the time I spent here on these 52 rolling acres known as Georgetown College. (It is still 52 rolling acres, right?)
A few months after graduating from Georgetown, I was sent as a 2 year missionary to Bangkok, Thailand (where I had previously done a summer missions trip the year before). I then returned to Kentucky in 1994 and served here at Georgetown as the Associate Campus Minister as well as working in Community Development. In 1995 I returned on my own to Thailand to try to forge a new path for myself & see what life had in store for me there. I worked as a “businessman” for a couple of years in an oil & chemical company.
Then one day a friend of mine told me that he thought I should go & take some pictures at a local modeling & talent agency. He said he figured it would fun for me if I got an odd job on the weekends modeling or being an extra in a movie, or something like that. So, one Saturday when I was particularly bored, I finally gave in & went to get some pictures taken. Not too long after that, the agency called me & said they had sent my photos to a casting director for a TV commercial and they had chosen me to be in it. In that commercial I had to speak Thai (which, by that time after living there 2 years as a missionary & 2 more years working, I could speak fairly fluently).
Well, let me tell you, as soon as that commercial hit the airwaves, my phone started ringing off the hook. Casting directors, talent scouts, production companies, etc. were all asking me if I REALLY spoke Thai or if that commercial was just a ‘one-line’ karaoke script kind of thing. When they all found out that this “blue-eyed white guy” could really speak Thai, I started getting lots of offers for acting & modeling jobs. It wasn’t very long before I had so much work that I had to choose between my office job and the acting career.
VERY long story short, I have spent most of the last 15 years as a lead character in a Thai soap opera, acting in dozens of TV shows & movies, hosting 2 of my own TV shows, travelling all over the world for my job, eventually moving into directing & producing, working as a producer at a national television network in Thailand, co-owning a film production company & owning a media consulting firm.
Most recently, I was presented with an INCREDIBLE opportunity that has brought me back home. I now find myself in an entirely new career working as a financial advisor, investment advisor and stock broker at Wells Fargo Advisors in Louisville. I spend my days helping people prepare for retirement, working with families to set up a proper plan for their lives, helping young parents know what they need to be doing to save for their children’s educations, analyzing client’s investments & financial portfolios & recommending the best ways to help them make the most profitable, low risk investments. In a nutshell, I basically help ensure that people are not going to run out of money before they die.
So, let’s just review for a second…….missionary, campus minister, community development, oil & chemical company, fashion model, soap opera actor, TV producer, movie director, entrepreneur, financial advisor.
Yep……that about sums it up. I’ve lived about 5 lifetimes squeezed into one. I’ve climbed down into one of the underground interior burial chambers under one of the Great Pyramids of Giza. I’ve ridden camels in Turkey. Stood in the exact same spot that Paul stood in when he preached to the Ephesians in the amphitheatre of Ephesus. I’ve dined with royalty, spotted whales off the southern coast of New Zealand, bungee jumped 400 feet off a bridge, eaten wood grubs & fried grasshoppers, zip lined off the 70th floor of a skyscraper, shot a machine gun while hanging out of a helicopter, given an elephant a bath in a river, rock climbed up the limestone cliffs of a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, dug up real dinosaur bones, went 4 wheeling on a glacier, wrestled with a 400 pound boa constrictor, jumped out of an airplane 1 ½ miles above the earth, spent a weekend with the long neck hilltribe people on the Burmese border, worked with Hollywood stars, etc. etc.
You can probably imagine, over my lifetime, I’ve been asked countless times questions such as, “Why on earth would you ever jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”…..”How could you eat something so gross?”….. “Why would you leave the U.S. and go live in some strange foreign land?”….”Why on earth would you ever think to jump off the top of a building?”…….”Why would you leave a career as a TV & movie star to come back to Kentucky to work as a financial advisor?”…….”Why? Why? Why?”
My answer has been consistently the same………”Because I could.” Because I could!
Now hold that thought and let me hit the rewind button.
I was raised in a little town outside of Louisville called Mt. Washington (anybody from there?) During my entire childhood & teenage years the most adventurous things I’d ever done were going to Florida once with my Grandma & Grandpa (on a group tour……by bus) and going to visit an aunt in Arkansas once. That. Is. All.
My family was VERY poor. We lived in a tiny brick house that didn’t have air conditioning or central heating. We couldn’t flush toilet paper down the commode because it would reappear in our back yard. My mom drove a rusty beat up 1974 blue station wagon & my stepdad had a 9th grade education. I remember one year at Christmas a group of people from a local church stopped by our house with Christmas gifts for my sister, brother & me because they’d heard my parents didn’t have enough money to buy us gifts that year. The most popular childhood game we played during the summers was imagining that we owned a candy store & using different colored rocks from our driveway as various pieces of candy. Yeah…..no playstations, iPads, Wii or any other type of game or toy that required money to buy.
When I turned 16 (and then 17 and then 18) I not only didn’t have a car, I didn’t even have a driver’s license because my parents couldn’t afford to put me on their insurance. I never went on school trips, never bought the latest cool clothes, I didn’t even buy my high school yearbooks each year because we couldn’t afford them.
Basically, I never knew what it felt like to be able to do things. I never had the experience of saying, “I can do that.”
My freshman year at Georgetown, I had just arrived & moved into Collier Hall (3rd floor facing Allen Hall). I couldn’t believe I had actually made it here. I got here on an academic scholarship but I was terrified that something would eventually happen that would make it impossible for me to remain a student here. To be quite honest, it wasn’t just school that scared me. I tried to put up a good front & be happy & outgoing, but the truth of the matter was that I lived in a perpetual state of fear & anxiety. I had practically no self esteem, I hated the person that I was. Every tiny imperfection in my life, my character, my looks, my grades etc. was amplified a hundred fold in my own eyes. I was afraid to take any risks because, first of all, I never had because I’d never had the chance to….and secondly because I was terrified of failure & rejection. Terrified people would find out I really wasn’t worth their effort.
And then people started inviting me to……stuff……..new student retreat, student government meetings, Knight Hall autumn formal, Thursday night devotionals, mission trips, the French club, young scientist’s club (or something like that), auditions for the Homecoming show, rushing for a fraternity, the annual Hanging of the Greens student decoration committee, and so forth and so on. And, subconsciously, each and every time someone invited me to do something my instant gut reaction was……”Oh! No. No. No. I can’t do that!”
When I’d actually say that out loud, I’d often be asked in return, “Uhh..Why not?!” You know what? After being asked “Why not?!” so many times, I began to realize that I didn’t really have a very good answer. “I don’t know. I just can’t”. “Yes you can! Come on!” So, I SLOWLY & reluctantly began to get involved.
And this is where I REALLY want all of you to pay attention. All of this stuff is going to start getting tied together here. I began to discover that this place, this existence, this environment was RIPE with opportunity. My “cant’s” began to be replaced with “can’s”. Not only did I learn I was ABLE to do just about anything I put my mind to, I was ENCOURAGED to. Not only was I academically strengthened here, I was emotionally strengthened. So many of the professors & teachers I had challenged my deep held beliefs……not to weaken them – but to GROW them & mature them & strengthen them. I got so stretched sometimes I thought I would break. And…..I LOVED it. I began to thrive! I began to say to myself, I can do ANYTHING.
Get involved! You will truly NEVER be given such an amazing opportunity to put your hands into so many different things. You will NEVER again find yourself surrounded by this many people cheering for you, encouraging you, hoping for your success, willing to bend over backwards to teach you, show you, lead you, grow you, nurture you, stretch you, bend you, mold you, nudge you, push you……love you.
So, why should you get involved at Georgetown? BECAUSE YOU CAN!!! Find something you love doing and go do it. And, maybe even more importantly than that, find something you DON’T love & make yourself go do that too!
This next statement is no exaggeration or cheesy attempt to just make a good speech……….but you MUST believe me when I say that every single exciting or “cool” thing I mentioned earlier that I have done can be directly attributed to the person I became while at Georgetown College. My 4 years as a student here transformed me from a “couldn’t” kind of a guy to a “could” kind of a guy.
Lastly, I’d like to add just one small “preachy” kind of moment to this. After living an exciting life answering people’s questions of why I did things with the answer, “Because I could”, I one day began to realize there were other things in my life I needed to be doing “Because I SHOULD”. If you are sitting here in this chapel today as a student of Georgetown College (or faculty member or staff or friend of Georgetown), living in the United States, in an air conditioned & heated place with 3 meals a day, running hot & cold water, a few dollars in your pocket, electricity, modern technology & no war & destruction occurring nearby….even if you don’t feel like it, you are already some of the wealthiest, most blessed people on the planet. Being always surrounded by peace & prosperity like so many of us are makes it difficult to imagine that not EVERYBODY lives like we do. They don’t! The truth is, the majority of the world does NOT live even CLOSE to this well. Therefore, as people who are very blessed, you truly SHOULD share those blessings with others.
I found in my life that the most incredible memories that I hold the deepest in my heart are not of bungee jumping or dining with royalty or rubbing elbows with Hollywood celebrities. My most cherished memories are in things like holding a baby orphan in my arms as he passed away from tuberculosis…..knowing that the last thing he saw on this earth was not tubes, wires, machines and a hospital room ceiling, but a smiling man who was caressing his cheek & whispering softly to him how much he was loved. Helping a mother & father dig through rubble after the tsunami in southeast Asia roared over their home & trying to help them find their children. Working with underprivileged troubled kids in the ghetto. Adopting 2 precious little abandoned puppies & saving them from either a very short life or at the least a very difficult life. (Now they’re both super spoiled little princesses).
Again, I’ve been asked by many people what compels me to do things like rescue & recovery work after the tsunami or volunteer at an AIDS orphanage or take in mangy stray dogs or knowingly expose myself to tuberculosis etc. etc. And, for THOSE questions, my answer isn’t just “Because I could” but “Because I should”.
One of the saddest things for me to hear from people who learn about or witness all the stuff I’ve done in my life is, “Oh! I could NEVER do something like that!” People, you can do anything! I have NOT lived in any way, shape or form an “exceptional” life. Really. There isn’t anything you’ve heard today that you couldn’t do yourself. You just have to get over the word “can’t”. I thank God that He brought me to Georgetown College to teach me & show me that I CAN.
I hope at the end of this year you can say that you did every single thing that you possibly could! And I also hope you can say you did every single thing that you knew you SHOULD.
Have a WONDERFUL year, guys!