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A Graduation Cermony for Bob Gaudio
His lesson: 'The only people who fail are those who give up.

Tuesday Feb 3, 2009
By Barbara Parker, Managing Editor
©2000 The twin boro news. www.twinboronews.com
View the photos, compliments Robert E. Kirsch, BHS'71 
Itís 1958; youíre 15 years old, and you have a hit record on your hands. In the next few months, youíre expected to earn $50,000 ó thatís millions in todayís dollars.

The song which you and your 17-year-old buddy, Tom Austin, co-wrote is "Short Shorts," and it has instantly captivated an entire evolving rock íní roll generation.

Instantly, in popular music lingo, means a couple of weeks.

So what does a high school junior do when he and the Royal Teens hit it big in the burgeoning market? And how does a young composer and singer respond to the possibility that his dream of creating and playing music could become a reality? 

Time was not on Bob Gaudioís side.

Once a group creates a new, popular sound, copycats lurk on the sidelines ready to one-up the original.So when Gaudio told his parents that he wanted to leave high school in Bergenfield and devote his time, talent, energy and enthusiasm to working full-time in the music industry, it undoubtedly came as quite a shock.

And it was risky. How many would-be stars make it to the top Ė or even the middle?

The usual route to successful security was to finish high school and then go on to college or into vocational training, work for a company for 45 years and then retire with a gold watch and a camera.

But then-Principal Paul Hoffmeister Ė seeing both the boyís talent and dedication ó encouraged Bob Gaudio to follow his dream.

That led him to a stellar, if complicated, career as a composer, singer, instrumentalist and producer.

So when Gaudio came to Bergenfield High School last week to receive an honorary diploma, he had a chance to meet with a group of students and faculty in the band room to talk about his life and his career.

It was an informal gathering, and the students werenít shy about asking questions.

One frequent question, of course, was how he felt about being a high school dropout. Maybe it was something they should consider for themselves.

His response was a firm, "No."

He pointed out that his experience was unique and that, by luck and his musical gifts, it worked out well.

But he emphasized that students should finish school and get their diplomas ó and that didnít mean they had to give up their dream of what they wanted to do with their lives.

A touching moment in the gathering was when Gaudioís granddaughter related the story of how Gaudio encouraged her to stay in school at a critical time in her life.

Her parents were talking about getting a divorce just as she started her freshman year of college. She said she was bitter and angry, and told them she wold drop out of school unless they got together again.

It was her way of saying sheíd get even with them, she related.

She told her mother, then turned to her grandfather, who helped her comes to terms with the implications of her actions.

"If you canít find it in yourself," he said, "find someone who can help you."

Gaudio was the chosen one who saw her through the crisis.

Now a warm and charming young woman, she did stay the course and graduated from the College of Marymount in Virginia in June.

A young man in the audience had his own story to tell.

After dropping out of school for a few years ó if not with his motherís blessing, but with her reluctant permission ó heís now going back to school.

Gaudio praised the student, and also his mother for letting him make his own decision.

But he cautioned, "Itís more important to get a diploma now. You need something to fall back on."

He also emphasized that music is not an easy business.

His rise to his present position as producer of the award-winning show, "Jersey Boys," based on the years he spent as a member of the Four Seasons, was not an easy path to glory.

"We had lots of successes," he said, then added, that sometimes music groups "fell off a cliff," largely due to the culture of alcohol and drug on the music scene.

"Had he had abused drugs?" a student asked.

He replied, "No, Iím not an addictive person."

Asked how music has changed since the beginnings of his career in he 1950s, he answered, "Itís more rhythmic, has more social content and is street oriented, like rap."

His parting message to the students was, "Even when youíre rejected, keep at it. The only people who fail are those who give up."

Later that afternoon, Bob Gaudio graduated from Bergenfield Hihh School Ė 50 years after his decision to leave to follow his dream.

In characteristic modesty, he said, "Well, itís only an honorary degree."

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