Pianist says finding ‘supernatural purpose’ is key
Story by Jeannette Cruz
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
The keynote speaker at Grand Canyon University’s fall commencement told the graduates to start the next chapter of their lives by looking for their initial purpose.
Jade Simmons, a pianist and self-proclaimed “purpose-pusher,” wants students to believe that everyone has a “supernatural purpose” that goes beyond individual professions, careers and degrees.
“When I look at people in their cap and gowns I do not see merely degree holders. I see world changers,” Simmons said. “Now, I do not say future world changers because I believe that from the moment you were born you began a journey of impacting our world, but the tragic thing is that most people will live and die only knowing their natural role on this earth, defining themselves as graduate, mother, father, doctor or lawyer but never meet their supernatural purpose.”
A reference point for the graduates is how Simmons, who mixes inspirational messages with piano performances, came to be called classical music’s “No. 1 maverick.” She described how she found her “superpower” when she chose to expand the boundaries of classical music by incorporating verbal messages into what she does on stage. This happened after a time in college when she discovered how much competition there was among classical musicians; instead, she drew on her musical skills to create a career as a performer.
“I went on default mode and started creating what I called ‘samurai recitals.’ And, like all over-achievers, I was playing the biggest and fastest pieces and was trying to be ‘extra-classical’ … but that was tiring. I was competing myself to death,” she said.
The former first runner-up in the 2000 Miss America pageant went on to create a musical mix that derived from her childhood in South Carolina and interest in African drumming and rhythm. Soon, she came to be known as “the piano girl who could talk.”
“I became addicted to offering an experience more than an encounter because in classical a lot of these musicians are so focused on the instrument instead of focusing on compelling the audience,” she said. “I was no longer stuck on this instrument.”
It all stems from her belief that too many people are simply told what to do and aren’t given a choice.
“Many of you have a dream when you’re little, but what happens is the world, your parents, society, television and your teachers will begin to put their image of what they think that you should be doing,” she said. “They mean well, but at some point you have to take a backward walk.”
Simmons urged the graduates to take a step back to get to know themselves and find what makes them unique.
“I love this idea of bringing all of yourself to every table,” she said. “I want graduates to be excited in knowing that there already is a laid-out plan for them because we have a God that gives us free will. Commencement has a special place in my heart because I believe very strongly that most of us miss these important moments of transition. We celebrate the day of graduating but we don’t understand that we are walking into a new dimension of life and we must operate differently.”
In closing, Simmons said, “You’re going to walk out of these doors and you’re looking to meet your next phase of existence by looking backward at parts of yourself that make you the original you. When you do that, you become completely inevitable.”
Then she sat down to play her piano along to the rhythm of African drumming — that sweet sound from her childhood.
After her performance, the 38-year-old leadership coach who specializes in teaching about innovation, purpose and momentum told GCU Today that she is adding a new lesson to her speech topics. Maverick Behavior, she said, will be a “process of becoming more of yourself to a point you look so unlike anything else around you. You become a supply of one.”
Simmons also is not embarrassed to talk about where she finds her inspiration.
“The only way I find myself surviving is to stay in faith,” she said. “I think earlier in my career and probably in the careers of most people, we compartmentalize ourselves, we compartmentalize our faith, and I’ve gotten pretty bold at infusing where my source of inspiration is — I have to stay plugged into God to do whatever it is that I have to do.”
When she’s on stage, Simmons said she looks for a connection, eye contact and emotions in the audience to power her speech and performance — and she found GCU to be “electrifying.”
“It’s a really impressive space,” she said. “I believe we’ll see these graduates again and they’ll be impacting in very unique ways.”
Simmons lives in Houston with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband, Jahrell Simmons, and their two children Jayden, 8, and Jasielle, 3.
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.