"We the People still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity!" After hearing President Obama's voice ignite the inauguration ceremony last month, his wisdom shot through me like a flush of saline. Images of Obama transported me to one of my last singing performances before I lost everything.
In late April of 2010, I was graduating from the University of Michigan and our Musical Theater Department class had been selected to sing for the commencement ceremony, which included President Obama as guest speaker! I don't think any of us realized the monumental reality of that moment. We were about to perform in front of 90,000 people in one of the biggest stadiums in the world, the "Big House," right in the presence of President Obama. We were super heroes! My rendition was perfect much like Beyonce's, because I didn't sing a note. I couldn't. I had lost my voice to cancer. So what happens when you lose everything?
My name is Alex Kip, and I'm glad you're meeting me now, as the 25-year-old survivor with a new lease on life. Back then, I was 22 years old on the brink of graduating from one of the top musical theater programs in the nation, when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I'm destined for Broadway, look at my pecs, leading men watch out... no joke, that's how I used to think. But how could I not? I had it all. Over 600 students apply to get in the coveted program, and from that group, only 22 to 24 students are accepted... let the Hunger Games begin! When I slaughtered my competition and was one of 10 boys accepted from the hundreds who auditioned, I knew that I had a gift. I thought I was Superman, and my super power was my singing voice. Until, that is, the kryptonite lodged itself into my body and I saw my power quickly vanish.
Suddenly, Superman was falling from the sky, landing on earth as a mere human without any powers. What would become of me? How could I fly again? At first, the loss of my voice was beyond devastating... the very singers that filled my ears with life became tormenting reminders of my loss. Music became depressing, painful even. Beautiful melodies haunted my reality. But I had a choice... to learn how to fly again or to keep crawling in my pain. Who would emerge from the rubble?
Learning a new song isn't easy... my voice had defined my life for so long that I lost perspective on the most basic yet most meaningful truths in life...like loving others and even learning to love yourself. I couldn't count on my talent to define who I was any longer; instead, my character became what mattered most. I was no longer expected to be the perfect singer, performer, and actor... I was expected to just be me. Only when I lost my voice did I realize I had been blessed with a gift... that we are all born with special gifts, and when we fail to realize them, our gifts are wasted. What good is Superman if he just flies past everyone in need? My character offstage needed work, and despite my gravelly voice, I knew that I couldn't remain silent.
So without a voice, I started to use my talents and training as a way to serve others and help the cause. First, by organizing a concert to benefit Livestrong, then by riding 100 miles in Pelotonia for cancer research, later becoming their master of ceremonies, and then writing my first play My Other Voice about my journey. I dealt with the pain by diving into it. I couldn't stay quiet after becoming involved with organizations like Stupid Cancer where I learned that the survival rate for young adults has not improved at the same rate as other age groups. Or that the cancer incidence among young adults has increased more than any other age group, becoming the number one disease killer for Generation Why. By helping others I was healing myself. I was finding a new voice for life, not one muffled by practice room walls. I wrote a new character, the person I wanted to become. Now in complete remission, after being told I had a 15-30% chance of removing the kryptonite, I understand what Obama meant by our obligations to other people. That love should rule our lives, that yes, we are all born with talents, and they should serve others rather than our own egos. So I'm taking flight this summer by staging the world premiere of My Other Voice at the Arthur Miller Theater in Ann Arbor this August!
My hope is to be a voice for the young adult movement, and when I promised to make my gifts about others, another miracle happened despite what the doctors predicted... my singing voice came back! So yes, I'm singing. But to a new song. I know now that my gifts can help others and that's the only reason to sing.We all have a voice no matter how small. So how about you? How can you use your powers for good?