José Andrés’ Tufts Commencement Speech Made Us Laugh and Made Us Cry
"Quite frankly, I am very happy I am wearing this, because my real size is covered," José Andrés said, draped in a Hogwarts-esque graduation robe. He was addressing the graduates of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy on Sunday, when he himself became one: He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree for his work in Puerto Rico and abroad.
The Michelin-starred chef has had no shortage of accolades in the recent past, since serving a whopping 3.3 million meals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. He's appeared on stage at the Oscars, at the James Beard Awards where he was named Humanitarian of the Year, and was recently named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. Still, this speech is kind of special because everyone knows college graduation brings all the feelings. Here are our favorite takeaways.
Andrés dropped out of high school and cooking school, but got schooled in life.
"I never went to college, I dropped out of high school to enroll in cooking school, I didn't even graduate from cooking school believe it or not. No even English... you can see it. But I can say I got my graduation in the kitchen of life."
Sometimes, having a plan is a bad thing.
"Something I've learned, something that no book or class or degree can teach you, is that you cannot always have a plan for everything. Sometimes planning is a luxury in times of crisis. I created my NGO, World Central Kitchen, after the earthquake in Haiti. And only five days after the Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, we went there too... We didn't meet, we didn't plan, we only did what we know. We started cooking. On day one, it was only 20 friends in one kitchen where water was coming down from every corner, in the heart of San Juan."
Andrés has been vocal in his criticization of FEMA for its lack of responsiveness after Puerto Rico—and lot of this, he says, comes down to overplanning and bureaucracy. When it comes to hunger relief, he's stressed, every lost day of execution literally costs lives: Andrés talked about this at length in his SXSW interview.
Don't let the perfect stand in the way of the good.
"Your worst idea that you execute will always be better than a great idea that nobody tried to carry forwards. Don't be afraid of failure. To stop and plan in order to avoid failure is to stop and plan while people are hungry, or even worse, dying. To avoid failure is to avoid learning."
Being green can be a good thing.
"To be young and inexperienced, for many, is a handicap. But actually, it can be your greatest asset. You're not captive to the failed ideas of the past."
"Changing the world" is an overrated phrase.
"Changing the world I think, is a phrase we use too much. Change is overrated. Change doesn't guarantee progress. Change sometimes can be from bad to worse. So guys, let's stop worrying about changing the world, and let's start trying to improve it." What Andrés means by this, perhaps, is that the scope of this cliché eclipses the very small things all of us can do to effect this larger change—let's not worry about the huge missions for a moment, and focus on just one or two impactful tasks at hand.
Sometimes the best solution is the most obvious one. If it's not broke, don't fix it.
"A few years ago, I remember this new water carrying backpack designed to help women transport water over long distances. And I offered to test it, me personally, in the high mountains of Haiti. We went to a mountain spring, and we had to go a few miles up to the mountaintop. A group of women walked right past me—they were carrying three times more water than the one I was carrying. They were balancing the water perfectly without the need of any new invention on their head. They were walking faster, straighter, and without spilling a single drop of water. And there I was, in pain, struggling to stay upright, and wet down to my underwear. You know, millions of dollars were spent to develop that water backpack. But it didn't begin to address the cause of the problem: No clean water nearby."
Let's not just create a new generation of leaders, but new leadership positions.
"I hope that maybe you will become Secretary of Agriculture, or even better, help create a new position: Secretary of Food. Or even better, you should become the next president of the United States... And I guarantee it will be a woman."
You can watch the whole speech here: