What’s in a name? Everything! Our identity, our permanent label, our calling card. Do you know the meaning of your name? My name of Lisa is an English name meaning “Oath of God. My God is bountiful.”
The website Babble tells me:
“Lisa is a short version of the ever popular Elizabeth. It hit an all-time popularity high in the 70s when Elvis named his daughter Lisa Marie. The name has fallen out of vogue since then and is now often combined with other names such as Annalisa. It’s also the name of the precocious middle child in TV’s long-running The Simpson’s.”
I’ll take it!
About 11 years ago I was in a retreat in the Bahamas with one of my bests, Amy. Before we left to go home, we went into a local restaurant run by all women. (We were served the most incredible macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten.) Grandmas, aunties, daughters, and grandchildren. Generations of women cooking and serving food to mostly tourists, I imagine. It felt like we were eating in their home, enjoying dishes made with love and history.
We sat down and a half-pint child came over and took our order. She couldn’t have been more than six years old. Amy and I were enchanted. We asked her name and she uttered something magical. “My name is Treasure.” Well this just knocked us out, as you can imagine.
Years after, whenever Amy and I were having a bad day one would say, “I wonder what Treasure is doing these days.” The memory would bring smiles and our moods would shift. Magic.
Last weekend I was in Washington DC with friends and we went into a restaurant before our show. Guess what our server’s name was... No, not Treasure. Even better. She was a Nigerian girl whose mother broke the tradition of Nigerian names and decided to gift her daughter the name Success. Success!!!!! I mean, Come. On.
Success confessed that she wore her name as an honor. Even though it might seem like a lot of pressure to live up to, she decided her name was a constant reminder to rise. Obviously, I fell in love with this girl.
For the last four years I’ve had the honor of reading the names for the commencement ceremony at Middlesex County College in New Jersey. It’s a modest affair compared to my friends who read the names for NYU’s graduation that is held in Radio City Music Hall. I mean, a voice over job is a voice over job, right? Every year, until this one***, I’ve been jealous of the higher paying, more prestigious opportunities of my friends at fancier graduations.
It’s a fun job. This year, I read 795 names in under 50 minutes - having never seen or read their names before. Honestly, I’m a really good cold read and my skill with phonetic reading is pretty stellar. (Shout out to BettyAnne Leeseburg-Lang and my training at Webster Performing Arts Conservatory!) Theatrical cold reading is reading aloud from a script or other text with little or no rehearsal, practice or study in advance.
The population of graduates at Middlesex is remarkably diverse. Some have names that seem unpronounceably foreign to my native English tongue, with intimidating spellings that seem to come from another planet. Most of the names I read go on to be dental hygienists, hospitality workers, and some go into the pastry arts. (!!!)
This year, the Vice President of Middlesex started his speech by stating the motto of the school.
“Success starts here!”
Aha! My girl was with me in the house…
I decided right then and there as I called out each of the names of the graduates that I wanted to bestow something on them. A silent blessing, a secret wish, that they would all rise like my new friend from the restaurant, Success. The students would leave with the same diploma, but they would go on to live out their own individual destinies. Me calling their names as they walked across the stage was the very beginning of their success story. I would send them off with a sprinkling of Success fairy dust.
The Vice President gave some fantastic parting words: “It took courage and ability to arrive where you are. Success is next as long as you bring that courage and ability with you wherever you go.”
Today as you read these words, I invite you to remember your own graduation day. Maybe you’re not where you thought you’d be by now. Maybe your job is something totally different than what you studied to become. Just remember you were bold and courageous for taking the steps to get exactly where you are now. Keep going. Continue adding to your success story.
***That evening after the graduation I was out in the city and I ran into my old neighborhood friend J.Walter Hawkes who is truly one of the most celebrated trombone players in New York City. He was on his way to a music gig in a local bar. Walter has a shelf full of Emmy awards for shows he composed for and that feature his playing. He plays trombone on numerous high profile projects and yet every night he makes the rounds sitting in with other musicians.
I was bemoaning my Middlesex vs. NYU voice over job to Walter. And he said “Lisa, we don’t do this for the money. We do it because we love it. We do it for the gig. Big or small, us showing up makes a difference. Keep showing up.” I felt like Walter bestowed some Success magic on ME in that moment. I vowed to never be jealous again of someone else’s opportunity. Those degrees earned at Middlesex County College are just as important as the diplomas handed out at New York University. My attitude was the only thing diminishing them.
And now for the Success Story of the kitchen…
Mexican Street Corn just in time for Memorial Day celebrations! We served it as part of our Mother’s Day feast with last week’s stacked enchiladas, but it’s perfect for the holiday as well as to cook up all summer long.
Elotés (Mexican Street Corn)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
2 teaspoons Cholula or your favorite hot sauce
1/2 cup finely crumbled Cotija or feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
4 ears shucked corn
1 lime, cut into wedges
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, place the shucked corn on a sheet pan, and roast for 20 minutes until you can see char marks. By all means GRILL the corn though if you have an outdoor grill!
While the corn is roasting, combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, and hot sauce in a large bowl. Stir until blended and set aside.
Transfer corn to bowl with cheese mixture and use a large spoon to evenly coat corn on all sides with mixture. Sprinkle with cheese, extra chili powder and cilantro. Serve immediately with lime wedges.