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Commencement Addresses

Lady Antebellum to UGA’s Class of 2018: ‘You can take a big risk’

Below is the full transcript of the commencement address by Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood to Georgia’s Class of 2018:

Dave Haywood: Wow, that was … You got the bio that I sent, President. Thank you. I figured I’d let him read it. Man, thank you guys so much for having us out. Charles would be up here in just a minute. We wanted to share a few minutes and a few words to you, guys. Thank you so much to the president. Thank you so much to all the faculty and staff. This is really just a neat honor for us. We’re used to being in front of people, but not public speaking, so please don’t judge us on that tonight. We came down from Nashville today. We’ve had a great day hanging out, kind of over by Tate and just reminiscing. Charles and I graduated in ’04 like President Moore had said, and man, we sat right over there by the band for every home game from 2000 to 2004, so yeah. Huge dog fans. We get score updates in our monitors when we’re on stage at night. That’s a true story.

But I’m sure you guys are probably wondering what in the world a few country singers are doing up on this stage, and I have to assure you, we’re wondering the very same thing. Our journey is a little different, and hopefully there’s a little bit of intrigue with that. But for Charles and I, a little bit of our back story, led us to a really interesting place. But we grew up in Augusta, Georgia, down the road. All right. That was my family. They follow me everywhere I go. But anyway, so we grew up in Augusta, and graduated from Lakeside High School, and really only applied to one college. Did you only apply to one? Yeah, so we didn’t have a backup plan.


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I’m happy we got in, because by today’s standards, we would not have gotten in. But man, we loved it here in Athens. Charles and I have been great friends since we were probably 12 years old. I always knew that he was such an amazing singer, and it was at Georgia where we really started writing music together. We lived down the street, a couple blocks off of Cloverhurst Avenue in a place we called the Treehouse, which has probably fallen down by now. But it was our senior year at Georgia in 2004, and Charles and I didn’t play much music while we were here. I was an MIS major, Charles in finance. I know, computer programming people, I hear you. But man, we loved it so much here. We didn’t play a lot of music while we were here.

But our senior year, we were at a party at our house, and I was playing some stuff on the guitar, just kind of making up some chord progressions, and Charles walked over. We hung out a bunch, obviously, here in Athens, and came over and said, “Man, what are you picking on?” I said, “I don’t know, I just kind of make stuff up.” He said, “Well, play that again,” and he started making up some melodies, some lyrics, and that was the very first song that we wrote together was in ’04 here in Athens. So, kind of a special start to us and our writing career as a band, and we just fell in love with being creative and writing music. That song we wrote was really awful, by the way, and I hope nobody ever hears it.

Charles Kelley: Tell them the name.

Dave Haywood: Yeah, the name was, it was called Carpe Diem Is on Vacation, and that one’s gone in the special file folder that will never get heard, yeah.

Speaker 3: Sing it.

Dave Haywood: It was so bad. It was so bad.

Charles Kelley: It went something like this. (singing) Some other junk.

Dave Haywood: Charles Kelley, everybody. But we graduated from Georgia and our story was kind of different. We didn’t know what we wanted to do, so we graduated and I went off to Buckhead and worked doing internal auditing at an accounting firm, which is a little different than where I am today. Yes, accountants, that’s right. My cousin is here graduating as an accountant, so if you’re hiring out there, keep an ear out for him. But we went off to work, and I worked in Atlanta. Charles was up in Winston-Salem doing finance. We just loved writing music together. So, we would travel a lot for our jobs, and we would meet up on the weekends and write music.

About after a year or two of working out in the real world, we loved the people we worked with but just felt like something was missing for us. At that time, Charles’s brother, Josh Kelley, called us and said, “Man, you guys kind of have a unique talent with writing songs. What if you came to Nashville, lived in our house and tried to write music?” So, that’s what we did. We took a risk and moved to Nashville. I loaded up my Blazer with my guitar and some Polo shirts and headed straight to Nashville, and me and Charles spent every day writing songs. I think that’s what we want to encourage you guys with a few points, and we’ll be brief, because I know you guys want to go downtown after this.

See, we’re used to cheering. Cheering is good. We’re used to that, okay. It makes me feel at home. You can yell whenever you want. That’s fine. Thank you, it’s great. But so we were up in Nashville writing music and we met Hillary Scott within a year and started writing as a writing trio, like President Moore had said, hoping to pitch songs to other artists, and that was our goal. We wrote probably a dozen songs together, decided we should go out and play a show, and said, “Man, this is too much fun. We should start a band,” and came up with a crazy name. I helped create our MySpace page. So, we’re dating ourselves. I understand that. But man, we had a blast doing it. We are still, to this day, so honored and humbled to be able to play music and do what we love to do. It’s really a special, special honor.

But that risk, I think the few things I’d leave you with, and Charles will be here in just a second, but there was a bit of a risk for us to go to Nashville, but at the same time, we felt like with a degree in our hand, it wasn’t really that big of a risk at all. It was a calculated risk, and I think that’s what I’d love to encourage you guys with tonight. Now, you have a degree, and now you can take a big risk, because you have an amazing diploma and degree from tonight, and be open, be open to things you haven’t even dreamed of yet. For Charles and I, we didn’t graduate from Georgia and say, “We’re going to Nashville. We want to be country singers.” We got out there and worked hard in the real world and kept our minds open and followed our passion and ended up landing in Nashville in a country band. So, for all you guys that don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go, be open, because life and the good Lord can really surprise you. So, welcome my buddy, Charles Kelley.

Charles Kelley: Why do I got to follow that? You’re just so good. You were funny. You got laughs. Can I use this chalice? Is this open? It’s water. So, I’m not going to lie. When I first found out that we were going to do this, I got a little nervous. I started writing down some stuff. My wife, she’s really intelligent. She’s definitely the smart one in our marriage, and so I had my first little draft. I said, “Baby, I’m about to lay it on you. Listen to this.” We kind of go. We start talking about this, talking about Lady Antebellum, and I said, “Now, this is where I’m really going to bring it in, bring it home.”

I was going to talk to you all about the Venn diagram. Remember the Venn diagram with the circles? And then they intersect and you got, in one circle, hope, you got your dreams. Next circle, you got what you’re good at. Next circle, you got responsibility. And when those things mesh, beautiful harmony. She laughed, she literally laughed, and so I deleted it. She said, “Is that what you’d want to hear if you were sitting in here?” I said no. But also, I’m 36 years old, it’s going to be hard for me to relate to you guys perfectly, but I do remember being there, and I remember being scared you know what, because I didn’t have a clear vision. But you know what? I don’t know. I knew I had this great degree and I would figure it out.

But I guess I wanted to just talk about something you might be interested in, Instagram. It’s such an interesting thing to me, and we’re all on Instagram. I think the one thing that I just want to encourage everybody, just stop comparing yourself to other people on Instagram. We know what everybody’s doing. Like you’re sitting there and you did 100 pictures in front of the mirror doing the perfect little duck lip face. Then we see it and we’re like, “Gosh, she’s so beautiful. I wish I had that hair. I wish I had this.” I mean, we all are going through the same thing, the same insecurities. We go through it all the time. If I see another band or an artist doing something that looks really cool and we’re not doing that, I get jealous, and I think jealousy and this comparison is the thief of happiness. So, just try to not compare yourself to other people because it will distract you for some happiness.

The next thing, too, I’m not trying to sound preachy, but money has never, ever been, for me, the thing that’s brought me happiness. I thought it was going to be the thing. I was sitting in your shoes going, “Oh, man, I’m going to be a millionaire. I’m going to have a jet ski and go on, I don’t know, whatever else millionaires do.” I thought it was going to make me so happy. It’s funny, I mean, the thing that has brought me the most happiness is chasing my dream, and I really do think I could have found happiness in so many different avenues. I really did, as funny as it sounds, I loved studying finance and being in those accounting classes. I really did. I enjoyed it. It was something that I think I could have found great purpose in.

But I also had this artistic side that I knew was kind of in the shadows, and so kind of to go back to what Dave said, there’s so many options for you, guys. Don’t think you only have one clear path and one clear direction. I hate when people say, “Don’t have a plan B, because it’ll distract you from the plan A.” That’s BS, man. I totally had a plan B. It took all the risk away from me. I felt like I could go in there with such, just free abandonment and take this risk while you’re young, because trust me, I’m married now. I’ve got a two-year-old. When you have those responsibilities, I guarantee you, I would not have taken a risk like I did with Dave and moved to Nashville. But again, University of Georgia prepared me, prepared me to work my butt off. I have such great work ethic. I wasn’t as smart as you guys, but maybe like a couple of the rows back, but I developed a lot of work ethic.

You guys, I mean, a 4.0 … Now, there wasn’t one professor that just didn’t like you and wanted to give you a B? Not one. Blown away, blown away. All right, that’s crap. You don’t want to hear that. Oh, yeah, this was kind of clever. I don’t like it when people say plan A, plan B. How about we call it two plan As? Perfect. But I guess go jump off the deep end a little bit while you’re young. I know a lot of you probably know exactly what you’re going to do. You got some job set up. But if you don’t, don’t be afraid to jump off the deep end. It definitely gets a little higher, that diving board. That was something cool I thought I’d write down.

Trust me, the older you get, the higher and higher that diving board’s going to seem. Can you tell I’m getting nervous? A little chalice time. They’re like helping me through it. They know I’m struggling. Another thing too, man, go see the world. I grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and I’m not going to lie, man, I was so basic. I literally … I really was. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong about being basic. But I had the same friends. We all dressed alike. We all thought alike. I’m telling you, the minute I moved to Nashville, and I’m not saying Nashville is seeing the world, but it opened my eyes to “Okay, there’s this artistic side. Maybe now I can wear some tight jeans,” and I did. Maybe I can get a tattoo, so I got this tattoo on my arm, and it’s my favorite band of all time’s the Beatles.

One of my favorite songs is Blackbird, and there’s this line, “All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” I got it in ’09 because I said, “I don’t care if I make another dime in this world.” I said, “When I wake up in the morning, this makes me happy.” I loved it so much, and I wanted to be reminded of that, because sometimes, I don’t care even if you have your dream job, you’re going to have moments that you’re just bored and it feels like work. Trust me, I hate flying. I hate being on a bus all the time. I hate missing my family. But to have those few moments of pure passion and purpose, I think, is what life’s all about, so I hope all of you can find that.

I encourage you to, as you travel, if you do get the chance to travel, I mean, there’s so many amazing different ethnicities, sexual orientations, races, backgrounds, and they bring so much light and color into your world. I mean, when you go over to Italy and you’re looking up and you’re seeing, what was that joke? The 16th chapel? Sistine Chapel. When you’re going over to these places and you’re seeing this, it makes your life almost feel like, it makes you not sweat the small stuff in a weird way. When I saw that, I said, “Man, we’ve been on this Earth a long, long, long, long time,” and when I get worried that something’s not working out in my life, I think about, like, “Hey man, this is a long, long journey, and people have been here forever, and we’re all going to survive. It’s all going to be okay. I know you all have so many fears, and there’s so much in the world right now, so much uncertainty,” but I don’t know. I think it’s going to be okay. That was horrible.

Oh, this is going to be good. I want to leave you with this. Be nicer to your parents, please. I was so selfish. I was so selfish, high school and college. I thought I knew everything. You don’t. You don’t, you don’t. They helped you so much and they sacrificed so much. I was thinking the other day, with my two-year-old. He pooped in the tub. Without hesitation, I just went bam, bam, bam. It was like “The Matrix.” I just, no hesitation. I was like, “I bet my mom’s done that.” I was like, so your parents, whoever raised you, they’ve been putting up with your crap their whole life. So, the least you can do, give them a big old hug after this and thank them. This is such a huge night and accomplishment, not just for you but for them.

With that, I’m going to end it. Guys, good luck. I wish you all well. I hope you can find your dream job. But just be happy, find purpose, and be nice to Mom and Dad. You were way better than mine, Dave, sorry. We are going to end you on this. We felt like we had to sing for our supper. Thank you. You take that. You can burn that.

Dave Haywood: All right.

Charles Kelley: You ready, Dave? Sing along if you know it. (singing) Sing it if you know it, come on. (singing) Do it for Ray. He’s up in the sky now. Dave Haywood. Taking this with me.

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