How a Boston Street musician got invited to speak at Yale (and how YOU can too)

Last night I spoke at Yale, a dream come to true that I wasn’t even brave enough to dream; but it came about as one of the now numerous fruits on the tree of a decade long friendship.


We often underestimate the lifetime value of investing in authentic relationships and even more so, being open to the providential ways those people enter our lives. Being invited to speak at Yale reminds me that incredible opportunities in life can arise from genuinely investing in the people that we care about.  



When I lived on the island of Bermuda I often traveled to New York City. I’ve always loved movies ever since I was a kid and watched more than my fair share. I began to wonder why I’d never imagined exploring the film industry of New York City, so I resolved to dig around the Internet and find a film company I could help. I became a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the city’s film industry and was at a loss with knowing where to begin or who I should even contact.


One night, I stumbled across a short film called Lusaka Sunrise and I watched the film and was impressed. I found the filmmaker’s contact info and I immediately sent him a message asking if I could be his intern.  After an inspiring conversation I was headed to NYC to be his FIRST intern.


When I arrived, Silas opened the door and I was welcomed in by a bright-eyed filmmaker with a huge smile. I was ready to do anything, even wash the dishes if it would give this young filmmaker more time to make movies. I walked in thinking, let’s get to work! but instead he said, “Let’s go to the roof, there’s a great view there.” A great view? I was confused but I went along with it. I wanted to work, but he wanted to chat on the roof. The conversation on the roof was more electric than our previous phone conversations and the Manhattan skyline made it even more epic. When we returned to his apartment, he taught me the tedious job of entering his film into film festivals. I sunk my teeth into this task while he went back to editing videos. This wasn’t a fancy Hollywood studio; this was his kitchen and he sat a few feet away from me at his computer. Every few minutes we couldn’t help but revive the memorable conversation from the roof. I went there for an internship and I was wondering if maybe I had found a friend.



After the weeklong internship I went back to Bermuda and continued doing helpful tasks for my new friend. I didn’t want the relationship to end. I couldn’t just say goodbye to someone who shared a similar passion for travel, film and people.   The work I did wasn’t glamorous. I answered emails for him and other mundane small projects. I wasn’t seeking to gain anything more than add value to a friend whose projects mattered to me and whose values resonated with my own.



Two years later, when Silas was editing his first feature-length documentary, he decided I’d be ideal for the soundtrack. He asked if he could fly me in from Bermuda to be a part of the project. I said YES. A few months later he locked me in a basement and, two days later, my violin was soaring through some of the most powerful scenes of his movie.


At this point your rightfully asking….how does this end with a speaking gig at Yale? But stick with me…I’m heading there.  In the last 10 years Silas has become one of my best friends, and through our friendship I’ve had the opportunity to work on incredible projects and meet numerous people. If you told me 10 years ago that interning for an unknown filmmaker in Brooklyn would lead to performing at his wedding, being featured on the soundtrack of an incredible documentary and launching a film school in Maine, plus being in a short film with Ethan Hawke, I never would have believed you.   It is through these relationships that I met Lisa Steele with whom I had a chance to share my story of creating a youth orchestra in the inner city of Boston. I shared with her my story of building the orchestra with no money and with the dream of positively impacting the lives of teenagers.



Everyone has a story, and no one can tell it better than you can. The sooner you realize that your story told in an authentic and vulnerable way can help someone else, the more opportunities you will have to share that story and make an impact. In June I received an email out of the blue from Margie Stern.  Lisa Steele remembered my story and passion for helping young people and told Margie who was looking for people with inspirational stories to be a part of her conference. Lisa told Margie to contact me and offer me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. She believed someone with my story should be at the conference so much that she offered to fly me to Texas and pay for accommodation expenses.



I didn’t need to be asked twice. I was going to Show up!  Plane ticket in hand and not knowing what the conference was about I received a call a week before the event asking if I’d be willing to tell my story to the ENITIRE 800 person conference. The caveat…I would only have 10 minutes. I found the gems in my 1 hour talk and turned it into 5 minutes and decided to show a heartwarming 5 minute video of my work.



In the Audience and one of the keynote speakers was Lori Santos. Last spring Lori taught the now heralded MOST POPULAR class EVER at Yale. She heard my 10 minute presentation and after I got off the stage invited me to speak at Yale. Over the course of the next few months I followed up on her initial ask and as of last night I’ve given my FIRST talk at Yale! (and have been invited back)



Last weekend I was playing violin in the subways of Boston and last night I spoke at Yale. We are prone to underestimate ourselves and the value of investing in the people right in front of us. If we spent less time trying to network with the people we think can get us further in our career and more time adding value to the people who are already a part of our lives, we may find in time that the fruit of those authentic relationships will lead to opportunities beyond our wildest imaginations….and even if they don’t, the support you give to others will impact the future of the world, for the better.


The list of accolades that have come from my friendship with Silas are endless and now include Yale but they are the least significant fruit of knowing Silas Hagerty. When I met him, all I wanted to do was to wash his dishes, but over the years he’s become my friend. He’s challenged me to see that networking isn’t about what you can get from others, but instead about how you can use your gifts to make a positive impact in the world. In the process of giving, you will receive more than you could have thought to ask. Knowing Silas has been an epic ride and, even though our collective resume is impressive, and now includes Yale, I’d still show up in Maine and wash his dishes any day.


David France is the author of Bestselling book Show Up: Unlocking the Power of Relational Networking, he is a Keynote Speaker, violinist, string pedagogy clinician, and Founder and Executive Director of Revolution of Hope, a music for social change initiative transforming inner city lives through the arts. He believes that joy in this life is maximized when you Give your life Away. You can also follow him on twitter