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Blue Ridge Outdoors President Blake DeMaso Delivers Commencement Address at Lees-McRae College

Lees-McRae College gained final yr’s Prime Journey Faculties Contest, and it has a well-earned fame for being a pacesetter in outside learning and journey. This yr, they asked Blue Ridge Outdoors Journal president Blake DeMaso to deliver the keynote tackle. DeMaso spoke last Saturday in Banner Elk, N.c., to the Lees McRae College’s class of 2019 graduates.

DeMaso first started pondering lofty speech themes while knee-deep in his favourite trout stream. But when he ran his ideas by his teenage daughters, they weren’t impressed. So he decided to stick with what he knew greatest: the outside.

In his speech, DeMaso recounted a downhill mountain bike journey that went horribly flawed; he ended up touchdown on a ”perfectly placed pointy rock” and breaking three ribs.

“The key to failure is to not let it beat you, “ DeMaso said. “Life will throw you a curveball or a pointy rock right when you least expect it. Take the time to understand what you need to do differently, why that failure occurred, and then get up and try again.”

DeMaso’s speech targeted on finding journey, which was especially applicable for Lees-McRae graduates.

“Adventure isn’t just about doing things like rock climbing, skiing, or hiking,” DeMaso informed the graduates. “Life is one big adventure. Adventure is getting that first apartment, first job, or first love.”

He inspired graduates to take risks every single day.

“Being bold and putting yourself in uncomfortable and sometimes risky situations is the formula for success. Those calculated risks are what separates the people who are just going through the paces of life from the people who pioneer new businesses, help causes, and change their communities. They influence people and ultimately change the world.”

The complete text of his speech appears under, along with pictures from the commencement tackle and graduation. Congratulations to this yr’s Lees-McRae graduates and all the 2019 graduates throughout the region.

Find Your Journey

I’m very honored to be here. I have been extremely excited for this present day and I started preparations for this speech from the moment I acquired the invitation to talk.

I labored tirelessly on what I used to be going to say after which at some point it got here to me whereas I was outdoors knee-deep in my favorite trout stream. I made a beeline again residence and locked myself in my rest room—my solely getaway spot in our busy house—and wrote the opening paragraph. I seemed back over it, and it was probably the most profound thing that I have ever written.

The title of the speech was “The Journey.” Oh, I was going to blow all of you away with this speech. Beaming with satisfaction, I entered the kitchen the place my wife and two teenage daughters have been, and I proclaimed, “I’ve got it.”

“What, dad?”

“The opening of my speech!”

Now, my wife and youngsters couldn’t be prouder of their dad and the chance to provide a commencement handle to this unimaginable group of graduates. They jumped at the prospect to hear what I had provide you with.

I launched into the opening of the speech, proclaiming with satisfaction, that the title was “The Journey.” I received two sentences in and seemed as much as anticipate tears in their eyes, so blown away concerning the words that I had pieced together. As I appeared over them, I used to be taken back. My wife was slightly shaking her head, and my 17-year-old daughter was rolling her eyes. I stated, “What? What is the matter?”

“Daaaad, don’t you know that the show The Bachelor ruined the word ‘Journey?’”

What?

I went back to my toilet defeated, with my tail between my legs. For days it was reported that I was strolling round wanting down and shaking my head, mumbling about how some dumb actuality TV present just ruined my speech.

So I made a decision to concentrate on what I know the most effective: the outside.

Two years ago, Lees-McRae gained the top journey faculty award given to them as voted on by the readers of Blue Ridge Outdoors Journal. With over a half million votes, you guys beat out state universities like West Virginia University, Virginia Tech, and College of Tennessee. You guys have been the first small faculty to ever take the title of Prime Journey Faculty in its eight yr historical past.

As graduates right here in the present day, you’re already in a terrific place for no matter your future holds, because as a faculty, you might have embraced journey.

Journey isn’t just about doing issues like mountaineering, snowboarding, or mountaineering. Life is one massive adventure. Journey is getting that first house, first job, or old flame. Journey is leaving friends and family and starting in a new city where you don’t know anyone. And the adventures by no means stop. They continue by way of life creating relationships and household.

Once I visited Lees-McRae again in early April, I was blown away by the students, employees, and administration. Once I first saw the varsity motto pulling into campus—

In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains—I felt right at residence. What other faculty has an exquisite mountain stream operating proper by means of the center of campus?

The various curriculum embodies the best way that you simply as graduates and the varsity have embraced adventure. Courses that cover subjects like outside recreation management, nursing, and pre-veterinarian are usually not for the faint of coronary heart. Saving a wild animal’s life, a lot less a human’s, requires guts. Journey runs deep at this faculty and translates into your athletics packages. Each conventional and non-traditional sports are enjoyed at this faculty. Congratulations to all of you who have participated in any of the sporting packages, and a particular congratulations to the softball workforce for profitable the Convention Carolina Championships!

What I witnessed whereas visiting, and coming back here this weekend, is superb: a dog-friendly, environmentally acutely aware faculty, with a large curriculum, that draws college students from everywhere in the nation, not to point out your wildlife rehabilitation middle on campus, as well as a diverse mix of on-campus activities and athletic packages. Lees-McRae is actually a particular place embraced in these lovely mountains.

I’m positive lots of you’re prepared, excited, and yes, nervous about shifting on to your subsequent journey. You is perhaps ready to put Lees-McRae and Banner Elk in your rearview mirror and move on. I might be prepared to guess that the majority of you’ll later look again on your time here as special and lengthy to be back within the security of those mountains. Simply keep in mind that your adventures started here, and you’re nicely outfitted to take what you’ve gotten discovered here and exit into the world and make yourself, your households, and this faculty, proud.

I appeared up the definition of journey, and I’ve to say, I had a very good giggle. The definition of adventure is an thrilling experience that’s sometimes a daring, typically risky, enterprise.

I am not positive about you…but I name that life.

There’s nothing that’s protected in life. Going out by yourself requires you to be bold and take dangers day by day. Sure, it can be scary, but the rewards are huge.

Being bold and placing your self in uncomfortable and typically risky situations is the components for fulfillment.

Those calculated risks are what separates the people who find themselves simply going by means of the paces of life from the individuals who pioneer new businesses, help causes and change their communities. They influence individuals and finally change the world.


With journey comes failure. It’s natural that in case you are taking a danger, you aren’t all the time going to succeed. The important thing to failure is to not let it beat you, and most importantly, don’t panic. Take the time to know what you could do in a different way, why that failure occurred, after which rise up and check out again.

There was this one time, as a reasonably new enterprise proprietor, that a few of my co-workers at the journal and I have been invited to go on this epic downhill mountain biking course. Now downhill bikes are utterly totally different than your common mountain bike. It’s principally a motorbike with no engine the place you hurl your self straight down a mountain, via the woods, narrowly missing timber, whereas going over jumps and round berms. This isn’t your everyday bike journey.

As we have been gearing up with full helmets and physique armor, I reminded the information that while, yes, we are outdoorsy individuals from an outdoorsy magazine, none of us have ever achieved this before. See, once we go out on these trips, the guides all the time need to take us on the most important journey, wanting to offer us the “real experience.” So we take off, and I was gripping the handle bars for pricey life. As time went on, I embraced it, and I used to be feeling good about my talents on the course while my co-workers about 10 years younger than me have been struggling. We got here to a stop so everybody might catch up, and once we pushed off again, I rode second behind the information, wanting again to my pals and exclaiming, “Hate that an old man like me has to show you guys up!”

This was not sensible.

As I went across the first flip, the front tire obtained caught up on a rock, and I went straight over the handlebars, flying down the aspect of the mountain by way of the air. In the air, I reflected on how dumb it was to exclaim something like that to my co-workers and the way I in all probability deserved my destiny. I landed on my aspect in the one place there was no body armor on this splendidly chiseled pointy rock that was placed perfectly in my touchdown zone. It knocked the wind out of me, and as I laid there in the midst of

nowhere, with no medical consideration round, with three damaged ribs, I mirrored on this failed adventure. I had no selection however to rise up, mud myself off, and finish the painful journey down the mountain.

Life is like that typically. Your adventures aren’t all the time going to achieve success. Typically, just whenever you assume that the whole lot is going nice, you say one thing dumb and end up with three broken ribs. You must respect the journey, have enjoyable, take pleasure in it, don’t get too cocky, and don’t get too snug. Life will throw you a curveball or a pointy rock right whenever you least anticipate it, and you’ll haven’t any selection but to not let it defeat you, brush your self off, and continue on.

I know you’re all wondering: Blake, have you ever since mastered downhill mountain biking? Did you not let that failed journey get the most effective of you? Did you sweep your self off and get back on that bike after you healed?

Properly, no I didn’t.

Truthfully, I’ve not been on a downhill mountain bike once more since then, and I can say with confidence that I have no plans for that activity in the future. But what I did study is to be careful of overconfidence. Life, just like

journey, can take a flip at any second, and it’s a must to be ready. Careful preparation, concentration, and a spotlight to detail are important elements of any journey as well as your lifelong pursuits.


There’ll doubtless be some extent in your life that you simply select to vary paths and enter into an adventure with a companion. These companions might be mentors, co-workers, business companions, loved ones, or household of your personal. These adventures alongside these companions will change your complete dynamic. You possibly can not make selections unbiased of anybody else. You at the moment are pressured to make selections which are in the perfect curiosity for the group. That is the place things get robust.

It requires compromise and endurance. For the adventurous souls which are used to taking risks, this may be tough.

Getting into into this relationship is a leap of faith for all parties concerned. Figuring out easy methods to navigate life’s adventures together is the important thing to success. I caution you to by no means stop taking calculated dangers and caring for each other, simply as this faculty has taught you to do with your folks, classmates, and professors. Foster these relationships, but do not get complacent. Hold embarking on those daring and typically dangerous undertakings, however love and

look after the individuals in your life. They come first now, and you’ll have to navigate these adventures together. Sure, a few of these relationships will fail, and once more, you will have to study from your mistakes, decide yourself up, and check out again.


The mountains have embraced this group and this faculty. It’s a protected haven for outside adventure, studying, and friendships. These mountains are your protector. They provide a tremendous place for studying and rising into maturity. Most of you will in all probability depart this protected haven and embark on one of the essential adventures of your life. Take what you’ve discovered right here, exit by yourself, create the life that you’ve labored onerous for, and know “you got this.”

Adventure is at the core of this faculty, and it is now a part of you. Embrace those dangerous undertakings and bold experiences. And yes, they’re thrilling but in addition scary.

Accept failure, embrace studying, and go on to that next adventure.

Never stop taking possibilities.

Congratulations, graduates.

Thank you.