A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, BeInkandescent Health & Wellness magazine — I am thrilled to have interviewed Tony Award-winning actor Greg Jbara for the March 2020 issue of BeInkandescent.
A friend since childhood (while attending Juilliard, he was the drama counselor at Camp Akiba, which I attended from ages 10-20), Greg and I have remained in touch. When I reached out to ask if he’d be willing to be the cover story of my magazine’s next issue, BeInkandescent Health & Wellness www.BeInkandescent.com — Greg said YES!
While I am a publicist — and Greg plays one on TV – we had a ball talking about his career, his role on CBS’ Blue Bloods, his mission as an actor, and what it’s like to have lived the life of his dreams!
Below, you’ll find the commencement speech that Greg gave to the graduating class of his alma mater: Michigan’s Wayne Memorial High School. We think his words of wisdom and encouragement are perfect to guide us all to truly can manifest anything we set out to accomplish. Scroll down for that.
First, here’s a little more about Gregory Jbara: Greg began his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan with a minor in physics and a major in communications. By his second year, he was enrolled as a theatre major, and his third year was a founding inaugural class member of the renowned University of Michigan Musical Theatre Department. He also co-founded the still flourishing Impact (Jazz) Dance Company through the University Activities Center.
Greg transferred to The Juilliard School, where he completed his BFA in acting in 1986. In the fall of his fourth year of training at Juilliard, he was selected to join five other acting students to represent the Drama Division performing live on the televised 80th-anniversary celebration of the Juilliard School, “PBS Live From Lincoln Center: Juilliard at 80.”
He remained a New York resident through December of 1997.
Born and raised in suburban Detroit, Jbara resides with his wife Julie and their sons Zachary and Aidan in Los Angeles.
- Learn more at gregoryjbara.com
- Please scroll down for his essay about living the life of your dreams!
Commencement: Greg Jbara’s Thoughts to Graduates of all Ages and Stages
First, let me say this is the greatest honor that has ever been bestowed upon me—the privilege to celebrate with you the VERY significant accomplishment of being the graduating class.
I have had the opportunity to speak before many different groups of people: Adults, students in grade school to college, other actors, and oh so many more audiences. But I’m usually asked to discuss what it’s like to be a working actor and also to provide insight and guidance on how one might pursue a career in the performing arts.
The majority of that talk tends to be about me and my experiences. While I’ll admit I DO love talking about myself, speaking before the graduating class of the high school that significantly shaped me is a particular honor. This was my high school. Where I grew up. The home town that I miss so very much.
I was also terrified to speak here today. I thought: What on earth could I possibly offer that would be worthy of your accomplishment that is being celebrated?
While looking for inspiration, I came across a file on my computer titled “tips for actors.” It’s a paragraph I keep and share when aspiring actors (often high school and college students) write to me asking for advice on how to get started in the business.
I tell them: Remember, this industry is called show BUSINESS.
Here’s why keeping your eye on the reality of what you are doing is essential for actors, and everyone else:
- Get the best training possible to be a versatile actor (doctor, writer, engineer, firefighter, etc.)
- Develop killer sales skills.
- Figure out who you are, what it is you “do,” and how to market it.
- Do not wait for someone else to create your opportunities.
- Get out and DO THE WORK!
- Immerse yourself in acting, writing, set building, theatre ushering, painting, dance, fine art, LIFE.
- Perform whenever and wherever you can.
- Get your name and face out to every person who employs actors.
- If this doesn’t sound like the activity you must fill your every waking moment, then find another profession.
Remember: The entertainment industry doesn’t exist to “make you happy.” The business of entertainment exists solely to “make money.” So figure out what you must do to be happy and then do it with all your being.
And here’s the thing: Being happy is what it is all about.
I can remember sitting right where you are now. And honestly, I don’t think the foremost thought running through my head was what am I going to do with my life that will make me truly happy.
I was probably thinking: I can’t believe I actually got away with this. They just put a diploma in my hands and I’m home free! And come August, I’ll be living in a dorm room in Ann Arbor, MI, out from under the supervision of my parents! Woohoo!
When I graduated, I really wanted to pursue acting as my major. But after much discussion with my parents (who loved and supported me always), it was decided that the wiser choice would be to major in communications and minor in physics. Understandably, my parents wanted me to feed myself once I graduated from U of M. And we didn’t know anyone who made a living as an actor. So it made sense to make that safe choice.
While I was in Michigan, it became clear what it was that was truly making me happy. At first, I was happy following my parent’s suggestion. I loved physics at Wayne (thanks to Mr. Vanwingerden), but the physics at U of M wasn’t about blowing things up and building cars that could run over 100 feet down the hall on the power of a mousetrap.
Many of my classmates were solving mathematical problems in their heads — equations that would take me hours of studying to figure out. Making matters more difficult, instead of studying, I was in rehearsals for the student-run theatre productions, building sets, making work-study money operating TV cameras and floor managing at the university public access TV studio, founding Impact Jazz Dance Company (that is still in existence today thru the University Activities Center).
It was the spring of my first year at Michigan, and there was a paper due for my History of Western Civilization course. I was so behind with that paper because all I wanted to do and DID do was perform and rehearse, and I completely neglected my academics that were unrelated to performing arts. The night before that paper was due, I chose to copy at least a quarter if not half of my paper straight out of one or two of the reference books. I turned that paper in the next morning. The following week we were given our graded papers back, and mine had a big red “F” followed by the note, “see me in my office after class.”
It has been so long ago I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I remember the teacher calmly sat down with me and said something to the effect: Are you aware I could have you expelled from school for plagiarism? What are you doing? Why are you here?
What made this meeting all the more interesting was that I had skipped more than half of his classes. He and I had gotten off on the wrong foot our first day of class for reasons I can’t go into right now. Anyway, I spoke very candidly about how it was clear from day one that he didn’t like me or at least did not treat me with respect, so I chose to skip his class if I was behind in sleep.
I also told him of all my accomplishments and gratifying experiences thru the performing arts at U of M. After hearing me out, he basically encouraged me to stop wasting my time and go after that, which made me happy — the thing for which I had true passion. I still had to re-write that mid-term paper over spring break. I am sorry I don’t remember that teacher’s name because, after that meeting, he regained my respect and gratitude for choosing to challenge me to honor myself.
Ultimately, he helped me understand self-respect.
The “fast-forward” version of what happened next was I changed to a theatre major my second year, became a member of the pilot program for what is now the Musical Theatre Program within the school of music. That is when I realized that completing the BFA for Musical Theatre meant staying at Michigan for an additional two years.
Instead, I dropped out halfway thru my third year (which did NOT make my parents happy), and I became a cook at Mountain Jacks Restaurant. I also toured the Great Lakes area performing in a children’s musical theatre tour about the founding of America, with encouragement from several of my U of M mentors I auditioned for the acting program at The Juilliard School. And I got in.
I graduated from the Juilliard School in 1986 with a BFA (which made my parents VERY happy) and have been supporting myself and my family with income earned as a union actor ever since.
So here is what I’d like to leave with you today.
- Figure out what it is that you simply must do to be happy and then do it with all your being.
- You don’t have to know what is tomorrow or next week or in the next five years.
- Be open to the idea that the definition of your happiness may change—many times.
I’m up here today because I am a proud graduate of Wayne Memorial HS class of 1979.
I have two beautiful sons and a beautiful wife who I love madly and who love me right back. And I am fortunate to make a living doing the thing that has always made me happiest.
I’m living my dream. So can you!
Learn more about this truly amazing man at GregoryJbara.com.