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Graduation Speaker José Andrés—Changing the Recipe
Excerpts from the 2022 Commencement Address by José Andrés
Graduation speaker José Andrés.

Chef José Andrés


Class of 2022, you should be proud of what you’ve achieved. This would be true in any year, but after the last two years of this pandemic that separated you from each other and your teachers, what you have done is a super big deal. You have overcome adversity in your own way. These skills you have learned are also part of your education—the skill to adapt in a crisis, the skill to throw out the plans you had and embrace the complexities of the moment—the skill to take a different turn. You know I am a cook. So, I like to think of this as changing the recipe—if you don’t have the ingredients you need or expect, or if you don’t have the right pots and pans, what you do is easy—you don’t follow the recipe. You adapt; you change the recipe. That’s been our approach at World Central Kitchen, the non-profit I founded to feed the world after disasters, after a hurricane, a flood, or in the middle of a war. You rarely have everything you want or need. Food supplies are disrupted, communications may be down, and kitchens may be destroyed. That’s when you go and you change the recipe. To fix the broken parts of our world, you often need to break the rules and write new ones, to reimagine food, to turn a meal into a plate of hope. So today, as you begin the next chapter of your journey, I thought I would share with you some lessons I’ve learned about how to change the recipe. On that, I’m good at. From a lifetime I’ve spent in the kitchens and the streets of life.

When I was around your age, I joined the Spanish Navy. My role was cooking for the Admiral at his house, but I wanted to be on a ship. I wanted to be at sea. After a few months of service, I went to the office of the Admiral, I knocked on the door, and I told him my dream was to sail. Not on any ship, but on the Juan Sebastian del Cano. The greatest ship ever built, an amazing tall ship. The Admiral granted my wish, and I sailed around the world. This is when I got my first glimpse of America, coming to beautiful Pensacola.

I fell in love with the idea that anything was possible here in America, no matter what your background. I wanted to be part of the American Dream, and you know what? If I hadn’t knocked on that door of the Admiral, I probably wouldn’t be here today. So this is the big lesson—don’t be afraid of rejection. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and what you need. Don’t be afraid to knock on that door. Don’t miss your opportunity to sail into your future; if you want it, you should get it. Big results sometimes come from very small things. Small actions can have a huge ripple effect that you cannot understand in the present, but that can potentially change the world, especially if you believe it.

Very often, we will have in the middle of our streets trash or a piece of paper right there on the ground. One day on the streets of DC, when I was 21 or 22, I saw another man, maybe in his 70s, he was walking down 7th street towards the corner where my first restaurant in DC opened almost 30 years ago. It was Sunday morning, I remember, and I watched that man look at the paper in the middle of the street. He bent down, grabbed the paper, and put it in the garbage can. I went into my restaurant, but at that moment, I couldn’t stop thinking of that very subtle gesture in an empty street in downtown DC. When nobody was watching, that man did what he had to do.

"I realized then the power of the ripple effect, of seemingly very small non-important actions."

I realized that the world is made of three types of people: the ones who will not even notice the piece of paper on the ground, the ones who will see the paper and will complain, and then people like this old gentleman, when nobody was watching, he made a difference. Be the one who will make the difference. Every time you take action to solve a problem, as small as it may seem, you are starting to change the world. Sometimes all it takes is picking up a piece of paper from the ground.

Dream that the impossible is possible. I founded World Central Kitchen because I saw inaction in moments of need. When people need help, and aid, and quick thinking, I saw hesitation, slow decisions, and bad decisions. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, I saw from the comfort of my house how thousands of Americans gathered in the Superdome, trying to find a safe haven away from the mayhem happening outside. Thousands of Americans were stuck in that arena. Hungry and alone for days. Everybody thinks an arena is a place for sports and concerts and music, but I always thought that an arena is actually a gigantic restaurant that happens to entertain with sports and music. But I didn’t show up. I just thought about it and dreamed that a cook like me maybe one day could help.

Like many of you, if not all of you, I had a good teacher. When Jesus saw hungry people who were following him, he didn’t think about what he could do—he acted. He multiplied loads of bread and fish. He fed bodies and souls with hope. One plate of food at a time. He showed us the way. Last year after the latest hurricane in New Orleans. I followed his lead, and I didn’t hesitate this time. I was able to land hours before the hurricane made landfall on the Louisiana coast. On the first morning after the hurricane, we were cooking across the street from the Superdome. We served millions of meals in Louisiana when other organizations were just thinking about what to do.

The only person who most believes in your dream—is you.

Every one of you girls has something within you that can help the person next to you or your family or your community. You can dream to feed the world not just with food like me, but with what you know and with what you are good with.

Like Jesus fed the hungry, look within your heart, find your life, find what you are good at, what you excel at, and be ready to feed the hopes of the people. We need you to do that.

Life will forever teach you every day in ways that add to what you have learned here at Stone Ridge. The more you know, the more you will learn as you grow older that actually you know nothing. Keep learning and, at the same time, keep sharing your talents with all the people around you. The world is already a better place because you are in it. Congratulations again, Class of 2022. We are all so very proud of you.