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  • Writer's pictureJustin Shaw

The Valedictorian Speech

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Over the past several months, I have been working with Creative PEI's HIVE Program - a collection of 25 artists being trained as entrepreneurs in our respective field. Near the end of the program, we had a final send-off with a trade show followed by a gala. At the gala, they needed someone from the group to give a speech (like a"valedictorian" of sorts). I was encouraged, perhaps jokingly at first, to throw my name in for consideration. Having always envied high school valedictorians ("we're so popular we get to make a speech about it!") I took on the role with gusto... and then remembered I needed to actually WRITE the speech. This is what I shared with the group of artists that I deeply admire and respect. I wish you the best in your futures, have a great summer, and let's stay in touch after graduation.

Here's the speech.

My name is Justin Shaw, and I am one of the 25 artists involved in the HIVE program.

It’s been a busy few months, and a few days ago I decided to pay a visit to my parents, who live just outside Cardigan in an area called New Perth. It says a lot about PEI when a place established in 1803 can still be called "New." It also says a lot when a group of Amish people can move in and go "yeah this is about our pace."

To clear my head, I went back my New Perth home, found an old book, and sat and read it cover-to-cover. From reading it, a quote stood out to me: “There’s nothing more truly terrifying than unlimited potential.”

The book is called Chiaroscuro - a graphic novel by Troy Little. An island artist.

The story is about a painter who spends most of his days living hand to mouth trying to make ends meet while lost in uncertainty and doubt one feels when staring at a blank canvas.

Before I began with the HIVE program, I felt like the painter from the story - I knew I wanted to create, but wasn’t sure what I needed to do to take the first steps in establishing a sustainable career.

Along with two dozen other like-minded artists, the HIVE gave me the chance to work in a safe space to learn the basics of entrepreneurship for a working artist. From day one we were told we would learn just as much from each other as we would from the actual business training.

Pardon my skepticism, but I thought “how on earth am I, a comedian, supposed to learn anything from a pasta chef, a mask maker, a graphic designer, a filmmaker, or a musician?”

Moreover, what could they learn from ME? “Alright everyone, here’s a tip from Justin: If you take the GO Train from Hamilton to Toronto at 11pm to make it to an unpaid open mic attended by seven people, there’s a 24 hour McDonald’s at Union Station where you can grab a bite for the ride home and silence your self-doubt with a quarter pounder with cheese. (beat) I’m loving it.”

We are 25 wildly different artists, and moreover, fundamentally different people.

Within the first few conversations with my peers, we discussed our values, our goals and our challenges. Through our individual pursuits, we wanted to connect people through our work, build careers that can pay the bills, and get out of our heads long enough so we can see that imposter syndrome is nothing but a shadow of fear that is trying to stand in the way of us from becoming best that we can possibly be.

Funny how people who seem so different are suddenly so similar.

Through a combination of module training, zoom calls, and Robyn’s 9am dad jokes, the 25 of us in the program were exposed to a broadened business acumen as well as a whole new network of equally passionate mentors, coaches, and peers of varying disciplines.

While we gained valuable business knowledge that will support our careers, each one of us now has two dozen champions that will stand in our corner as we face the horizon of the big, terrifying, unknown.

There is nothing more terrifying than unlimited potential… but now, thanks to the HIVE program, we have the skills and support to help us face our challenges head on.

On behalf of the HIVE program, thank you for supporting the arts on Prince Edward Island.

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