Famed author offers advice to Class of 2017: Find a job, find balance

J.D. Vance offers his advice to the Middletown High School graduating class of 2017 during their commencement ceremony May 23. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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J.D. Vance offers his advice to the Middletown High School graduating class of 2017 during their commencement ceremony May 23. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Nationally-acclaimed author J.D. Vance gave the commencement address Tuesday night at Middletown High School.

He had plenty of advice for the new graduates:


“One of the lessons of my life that I learned when I was in Middletown I learned from my teachers, my family and my community is that it’s not always easy to find happiness. It doesn’t just come naturally,” Vance told the 375 graduating seniors from Middletown High School and their families in the audience.

“Find a vocation. What I mean by that is to find something you like doing, that you are pretty good at doing and that pays enough of the bills to support a family,” said Vance, who wrote the best-selling author of “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.”

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“Think about what it is that you like to do and what it is you can learn to do and combine those into a vocation,” but also follow your heart, he advised, saying the matters of love are more important to job success or the accumulation of material wealth.

“So don’t just build a vocation … build a life,” said Vance, whose own life story is being made by Academy Award winner Ron Howard into a Hollywood movie based on his memoir that includes his formative years growing up in Middletown.


Don’t just live in a community, Vance told the graduates, but be a part of the community by getting involved.

Vance, whose book also documents the struggles of America’s white, working class, said the fame and access he has enjoyed has provided him opportunities to interact with the nation’s elites in various areas of power including political, business, entertainment and the national news media.

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“Play a part in your community. Every single time I see a person who is truly happy, it’s not their money that makes them happy, it’s not their prestigious job that makes them happy it’s the fact the play a role in their community.”


“The most important part of remembering where you came from is remembering the people who made you who you are,” he said in reference to the key roles his grandmother, teachers and others played in his development that eventually led him to the U.S. Marines, Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

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Prior to the ceremony Vance told the Journal-News in an exclusive interview he hoped to convey to Middletown’s latest graduates the importance of “focusing on the things that matter.”

“Happiness is not all about career and ambition. It’s about the people in your life and how happy your family and friends are. I’d advise them to focus on both,” he said.

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