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Members of the sports industry were among the commencement speakers on college and university campuses across the country this spring. Presented here are excerpts of their advice and words of wisdom.
University of Massachusetts Lowell
It is very important at ceremonies such as this to tell graduates “Dream, and dream big.” I say, Do more than that. When you dream, you are in an unconscious state. It ends, you wake up; it’s not real. You need to create a vision. This takes determination and a plan. It takes your dream to a destination. My dream was football. In fact, I slept with a football starting at age 6, a practice my wife just broke me of in the last few years. My passion and vision was to work in the NFL, so I created that plan. I wrote more than 40 letters to the NFL. The result?A pile of rejection letters. But I was determined and persistent, so I kept writing.
Finally, there was a plain and somewhat dismissive reply from a weary executive at the NFL to “stop by if you are in the area.” So I told him, “I’m in the area.” I got in my car. I drove all night from Pittsburgh to New York and I was on his doorstep the next morning. Six months later, and probably 12 or 13 letters later, they offered me a three-month internship. It was supposed to be a one-season internship, but it was my opportunity to show what I could do.
The lesson for you: As you develop your career, seize every opportunity and know that you will make a lot of mistakes. Life is about navigating uncertainty. You have to be resilient, you have to adjust and you have to be determined.
New Orleans Saints quarterback
LOYOLA UNIVersity NEW ORLEANS
I want to leave you with a quote. And I could have chosen many profound quotes from presidents, CEOs (or) philosophers, but I am choosing one from my grandfather. He’s 85 years old; he still lives on a ranch, herding cows in East Texas. His name is Ray Akins. And a quote I heard all the time from him when I was growing up was this. According to my grandpa: “There are three types of people in this world: There are those that make it happen, there are those that watch it happen, and then there are those that wake up one day and say ‘What the heck happened?’”
“So, which one are you?” is what he would tell me.
NBC Universal Sports & Olympics chairman
Sacred Heart University
Never ever give up; don’t allow yourself to become a victim. And there will be many opportunities for that to happen in your life. There’ll be the loss of a job; it happened to me. There’ll be a breakup; it happened to me. Or it could be, sadly, the loss of a loved one. …
When Susan and I six years ago lost our son, as soon as I was really conscious a day later from the accident that had claimed Teddy’s life, she assembled his brothers and sister and I in a room in a hospital in Colorado. She said something that I think you should all remember. You should carry it with you as part of your lives. And that is: If you allow yourself to become a victim, it’s like swallowing poison and then blaming the other person. Do not, in your darkest time, make it about someone else. It’s up to you to start putting your feet in front of one another again. As much as passion is part of your life, and perseverance, the same thing is true about tough times and standing up. No pity parties.
Washington Mystics president and managing partner
Georgetown University McDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Your competition is no longer just sitting next to you. It’s no longer just sitting in the suburbs of Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Palo Alto, or Dallas. In fact, a big part of your competition is not even in this country.
Over the next 20 years, the people you have to beat out for that job, or that promotion, or that career, no longer share your background, particularly if you were born and raised in the
United Statesand not outside these borders, as some of your fellow graduates were.
Your competition is no longer a product of the same educational system as you. They don’t have the same cultural frame of reference as you. They don’t necessarily think like you, and chances are, they probably speak at least one, two, or even three more languages than you.
For most of the past 50 years, those differences would have worked in your favor, since the center of global economic activity was rooted here and emanated from here.
But in the truly global economy we have now, those differences are beginning to work against American students.
That’s not to say you won’t succeed, because you have all the tools you need. But it is to say that the bar is a lot higher for you today than perhaps any previous graduating class.
Boston Celtics CEO & managing partner
Suffolk University Sawyer Business School
Here’s a snapshot of my life in 1992, 18 years ago: a steady job, a great marriage, dream house, Northern California, second child on the way — and our second child was born totally blind. It was a shock. It was a wake-up call. It was a thunderbolt. Corinne and I processed it, thought about it and decided to devote ourselves to his life and progress and happiness and to the cause of preventing and treating blindness in other children. We had dreams before that day, but somehow they suddenly seemed sort of ordinary and achievable. Suddenly our dreams had become maybe impossible and therefore so compelling. We wanted to eradicate all kinds of blindness. What a gift it really turned out to be somehow to have those dreams, to have a purpose much bigger than ourselves, and to be able to reorient our lives in a way that seems to actually offer more possibilities. And what a real dream it has been to be Campbell’s dad in so many ways I can’t even begin to mention them to you.
So my point is, if you truly do what you love doing, what you need to do, what you feel inside, not only will you enjoy your life more, but you actually have a chance of performing at an even higher level. It actually can be a great career move to follow your heart. If you’re beating yourself down just chasing a paycheck, it stands to reason that your performance will eventually suffer and so will the paychecks. Instead, do what you love, and that way you can be a star.
Houston Texans owner
Baylor University College of Medicine
I believe a secret of success is in finding win-win situations. (Wife) Janice and I were in thoroughbred racing for the last 15 years, and we raced at the highest level and were breeders of champions. Our policy was if you bought a horse from us and it wasn’t as we represented, bring it back and we’ll refund your money. Sometimes we’d sell a horse that would go on and win big races, and others in the industry would say, “Doesn’t that make you feel bad?”
“Not at all,” we would say. “We are happy for them and they’ll come back and buy more horses from us.”
We were the co-breeder with our partner Arthur Hancock of Fusaichi Pegasus that we sold for $4 million, and he won the Kentucky Derby in 2000. Any regrets? None at all. We are the only breeder to ever sell three yearlings far in excess of $3 million each in one year. That’s win-win.
Former Olympian, NBA player, coach and GM
West Virginia University College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences
Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I recently saw that quote on a bumper sticker in California. It was on a car belching black exhaust and consuming gas at 3 1/2 bucks a gallon. But let’s overlook those minor details and concentrate on the sentiment: Be the change.
Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. And don’t be afraid to fail.
Former MLB pitcher
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
There are two words you hear, have heard, and will hear. What you need to know is there is an order of magnitude difference in what they mean to successful people. Those two words are: losing and failure. They mean completely different things. Losses are the things that happen to you and I every single day. They are the things that make us part of who and what we are. Losses are things you learn from; they are the most important building blocks of successful people. Winning gathers its meaning when you compare it to losing.
Failure? Yeah, failure sucks. But, there is only one way to fail. You can only fail something if you quit.
Former NFL commissioner
University of the District of Columbia
Some of the greatest teachers in my life, some of the people who have shaped me the most, made a career of humanity through their careers in athletics.
I’m thinking, for example, of Eddie Robinson, who took his first and only college football head coaching job in 1941 at Grambling, and went on to win more than 400 games in his career, second-most ever, while breaking down stereotypes that stopped so many African-American men before him from getting the chance to coach or play football at the highest levels. I’m thinking of Wilma Rudolph, who, running on a sprained ankle, became in the 1960 Olympics the first
U.S.woman track athlete to win three gold medals. … I’m thinking of the baseball player Roberto Clemente, a hall of famer for the Pittsburgh Pirates from the mid-’50s to the early ’70s. … I’m thinking of everyone in the National Football League and with the New Orleans Saints who, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, supported the decision that our league needed to keep the team in New Orleans and thus contribute to the rebirth of the city. …
Each of these figures has had a catalyzing effect on society, has moved the needle for social justice, by developing their particular interests and vocations in ways that make a larger social impact.
“Fox NFL Sunday” host
(The) summer after my freshman year, I went home to Atlanta, where another Coe College alum, Fred Hickman, at the time was an anchor at CNN Sports. He helped me get an internship there as one of a dozen or so kids who watched games and suggested highlights to the producers. After we were done each night at 11 p.m., while the other interns went out for a beer, I’d often stay and ask the editors to teach me how to do what they do.
Well, after a couple of weeks, the one paid intern there, who worked on the morning show, left because he needed to earn money for school. You had to know how to edit in order to get that gig, and since I was the only one staying late-night learning, I got it. I was then the paid intern! I got paid $5 for every three hours I worked! …
Three simple rules of success: work hard, be passionate and enjoy life.