University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
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Commencement Address to the Class of 2012

Heather Muir

Pitt-Johnstown alumna and Johnstown area native Heather Muir inspired and entertained the members of the Class of 2012 as this year's Commencement speaker.  At only 27, Heather has successfully risen through the ranks of New York's highly competitive fashion publishing industry to become Beauty News Editor at Allure, the country's leading beauty magazine with more than 7.2 million readers.  In a speech filled with humor and reflection, Heather offered five tips for graduates to succeed: 1) follow what truly interests you, 2) be kind to people, 3) play up your best feature, 4) leave your Comfort Zone, and 5) make a fool of yourself.

Thanks so much President Spectar. First of all, huge congratulations to the class of 2012! Today your adventure begins. If you’re feeling anxious and scared, that’s totally normal. I promise you that as I stand here before you, I am just as anxious. And frankly, I’m terrified.

When UPJ’s Associate VP of Auxiliary Services, Chris Stumpf, first asked me to speak today I was grateful for the opportunity. I was humbled. I was honored. And then I went home and I completely freaked out. After all, I only graduated five years ago. What have I done that’s worth listening to? But then I remembered: Snooki spoke at Rutgers last year. Okay, if Snooki can do it, then I can, too. The next thing I did was Google the best commencement speeches of 2011. I literally typed in the words “best” “commencement” and “speeches.” I watched President Obama speak at Coast Guard and Denzel Washington speak at Penn, and Amy Poehler speak at Harvard—and I can tell you three things:

One: Those were some damn good speeches.
Two: The speakers were inspiring and gave valuable advice.
And three: They were honest.

So here goes. My honest attempt to prepare you for—and a bit of advice about—the world beyond.

Five years ago, I was sitting in the same black robes at UPJ’s commencement and never could have imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that one day I’d be living in New York City and getting paid to be an editor at a magazine read by 7.2 million people.

I grew up in Davidsville, Pennsylvania. All you need to know about Davidsville is that it’s ten minutes away from here and there are more cows than people. A lot more. I majored in Communication. The truth is, math scared the bejesus out of me and communication seemed as far away from calculus as academically possible. I had two interests when I was in college: writing and—now please don’t judge me—makeup. I didn’t have the first clue about how to combine the two. On was a serious discipline. One was, you know…eyeshadow. But then one day I met a beauty editor and realized: Wow. That’s a job title. She invited me to be her intern and Self magazine. I had a desk and a phone and I interviewed people and wrote pieces for the website and I spent hours—hours—in a magical place called “the beauty closet.” The job was heaven. The job was made for me. And the job set me on a path. So that is my lesson number one: Follow your interest. Whatever it is. There is nothing too esoteric, too silly, too frivolous. You love nothing more than goat cheese? Well, those goats don’t milk themselves. The point is: We’re all interested in something. Lipstick. The law. Goat cheese. It’s all the same. Follow your interest. That is the only way work will never feel like work.

Point number two: And I say this from a place of compassion and with the utmost respect: You’re not as smart as you think you are. But—and this is the important part—it doesn’t matter. The world is full of smart people. You know what the world isn’t full of? Nice people. When I moved to New York, my home was a friend’s walk-in closet, and my bed was a sad, squeaky air mattress. I wasn’t exactly living the dream. Most of the time, I was running around town trying to find the Starbucks with the shortest line. But every time someone sent me out to fetch her coffee, I did it fast and I did it with a smile. I quickly became known as the nice intern. I was the intern who got along with everyone. And you know what? By the end of the summer, my boss was asking me to write small pieces for the magazine. That internship gave me not only 12 credits from UPJ that helped me graduate a semester early, but I also walked away with five pieces published in a national magazine. The takeaway from that internship: No task is too menial. You get a staff-wide email about a co-worker’s new baby? Be the first to send a congratulations card. The printer’s out of ink? Take the initiative and call office services (Did you think I was going to suggest to change the cartridge yourself? I’m not that good.). My point is: If you want people to remember you and you want them to think good things about you, be kind. It is the most important thing that you will ever be.

Point number three: Humiliate yourself. Get in trouble. Get yelled at. Or better still, get yourself fired. I haven’t done this yet, but I hear it’s great for the backbone in the long run. The idea is that once you’re duly humbled, you are better equipped in the future. You know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Well, taking a risk, be honest, humiliating yourself, will not kill you. And you will be stronger. Let me tell you what I like to call an incredibly humiliating story: The other day, I was going about my life at Allure, testing new lipsticks, trying out a new face cream—seriously, this is my work—and I decided that I needed to blog about a spa treatment I just had. There’s no delicate way to put this: I had just gotten a bikini wax. My first of the season if you must know. I write about it. It posts on our blog. And I go back to work. Not even five minutes later…ding! I have a Facebook message from—wait for it—Chris Stumpf, inviting me to be today’s speaker. Was it coincidence? Possibly. Is there a good chance that Mr. Stumpf had or has since read this blog post about my bikini line? Yes. So I stand here before you, not embarrassed so much as mortally humiliated since Mr. Stumpf—and now the President, the Board of Trustees, and you and your grandparents—know all of the details of my lady grooming. Graduates: Put yourself out there. Expose yourself. Maybe not as literally as I did, but take a risk. You will not only survive. Graduates, you will thrive.

Point four: Play up your best feature. This is something I have a little experience with. In fact, this is something I make a living out of. You like your eyes? Get familiar with eyeliner. Love your legs? Marc Jacobs makes the best miniskirts this season. Been told you have a nice mouth. Buy a tube of Chanel Brown Sugar Lipstick and never let it leave your side. Of course, there’s a metaphor in here for all you English majors. Whatever you call it—playing up your best feature, playing to your strengths, this is the thing that makes you…You. You always win arguments? Go to law school. Are you proud of your sarcastic sense of humor? Remember that Jon Stewart wasn’t always Jon Stewart. It might take years—or decades—to find out who you are so while you’re searching, focus on the one thing you really love about yourself. Whatever it is, it matters. It makes you unique. Every single one of you has a best feature—and no best feature is too small. This is coming from a girl with eyelash extensions.

Leave your comfort zone—that’s point number five. For the record, my comfort zone is home in Davidsville—eating my dad’s lasagna, watching The Hills. You know what’s as far away from that as humanly possible? A little magazine called Cosmopolitan, located in the famous Hearst Tower in New York City. Also the site of my first paying job. On my third day as an assistant, Ludacris came by. Maybe he had a meeting. Maybe he was lost. I never really knew. But he was there, inches from my desk. A few weeks later, there was an actual tiger in the office. Maybe he too was lost. Maybe he was looking for Ludacris. Over the course of my job, I saw a crazy cast of characters parade past my desk: Sex therapists. Male models. Shirtless male models. Male models wearing nothing but their underpants. Was this shocking to a girl from Davidsville? You could say so. You could also say that half the time I was so bowled over I could barely remember my own name. But I learned something. Experience is something you can’t buy. I jumped into a new city, a new way of life, a new everything and I was constantly shocked and scared, but I learned more than I could have ever imagined. Plus, if I’m ever in an office with a tiger again, I will be able to say it’s not my first time. 

So whether you choose to stay in Western, Pennsylvania or move to Washington, DC or New York or California or Paris or Tokyo or Eastern Africa, remember these five things: Follow what truly interests you. Be kind to people. Play up your best feature. Leave your comfort zone. And by all means, as often as possible, make a fool of yourself. You’ll never regret it. Take it from someone who just gave the commencement address at her alma mater. Congratulations to the class of 2012!