Dr. Bon Jovi Salutes Underdogs In Graduation Speech

This commencement speaker saw a thousand faces and he rocked them all.

WEST LONG BRANCH, New Jersey — Jon Bon Jovi might be just another underdog from Jersey, but now he's an underdog from Jersey with a doctorate in humanities.

The pop-rock singer received the honorary degree and gave the commencement address at Monmouth University on Wednesday (May 16), telling the class of 2001 not to be in awe of students from bigger, better-known schools.

"Every year, there's a new crop of talent making records who want my spot," Bon Jovi told the graduates, who were seated on folding chairs on a lawn behind the university's Woodrow Wilson Hall. "At this very moment, all across the country, thousands of graduates are receiving diplomas, some from schools like Yale, Georgetown and Dartmouth, who may think their piece of paper is more valuable — or their commencement speaker more impressive.

"Remember, we're from Jersey. We've been underdogs all of our lives," Bon Jovi said to cheers.

More than 1,000 students graduated from the university near Asbury Park, where Bon Jovi got his start at such Jersey Shore clubs as the Stone Pony and the Fast Lane.

"Bon Jovi was not supposed to succeed," the singer said. "Ask any critic. We weren't from New York. We weren't from L.A. I didn't live the clichéd rock and roll lifestyle that legends were made of. We tried to keep up with the Joneses until I realized that even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."

Bon Jovi and his band are enjoying the success of last year's Crush, which has sold more than 2 million copies. Their first live album, One Wild Night (see "Bon Jovi Have One Wild Night"), hits stores next week, and they are in the middle of a tour that ends with two sold-out homecoming shows, July 27 and 28, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford.

Bon Jovi, who wore a black graduation gown, also spoke about his movie career, which includes "U-571" and "Moonlight and Valentino."

"I may have been very successful in my music career, but when I started a film career, I was just another actor looking for work," he said. "My fame wasn't a help — in fact, it was a hindrance. No one in Hollywood encourages musicians to make the transition into acting. I had to audition just to get an acting coach."

Introducing Bon Jovi — who grew up in Sayreville and lives in nearby Middletown — University trustee Peter Novello said the performer was given the honorary degree because of his success as an entertainer and his humanitarian work. Bon Jovi has worked on behalf of Special Olympics, the American Red Cross, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and other groups.

His speech was well-received — especially the New Jersey references.

"All my friends from high school went to college out of state, and they would give me speeches that I had to get out of state, too," said graduate Nicole Imperial, 23, of Westfield. "I still feel that I'm as good as them!"

After his speech, Bon Jovi, a graduate of Sayreville's War Memorial High School, shook hands or gave high-fives for nearly two hours to graduating seniors as they picked up their diplomas. When all the degrees had been handed out, Bon Jovi ducked into a limo behind the stage and sped off, led by a police escort.