Words of wisdom for the Class of 2014
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 for the Class of 2014. Comments have been edited for brevity and clarity. — Compiled by Bryan Ives
MLB, EVP, operations; four-time World Series-winning manager | University of Hartford
A great American once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And we all know who that great American is: Yogi Berra. I thought it was over for me in 1984. I was fired from my second managing job with the Atlanta Braves and I was sitting there, sullen, with my wife at the kitchen table, and she says, “How do you want to be remembered?” I said, feeling sorry for myself, “Someone who never realized his dream,” and she just slapped me back to reality by saying, “Are you dead?” …
When we did win the World Series in ’96, I found out later on that it was well over 4,000 games that I had participated in as a manager or a player and that was the all-time record of someone going to the World Series and how long it took me. I just want to caution you when you go out there — and I know you have a full head of steam and God love you; I think it’s great, because you’re our future. … Even though you go out there in your field of battle or your field of play and you do everything right and you give it every bit of energy you have and every bit of passion that you have, it may not work out. It may be a disappointment, but that’s when you check the character level and you bounce back.
Cleveland Indians president | Baldwin Wallace University
If I had to impart one thing on you today that I look at in people that I surround myself with, people I want to surround myself with, and people that I see successful in every single walk of life, it is simply this: I look at how they handle real adversity. When they face challenges, when they face disappointments, when they face setbacks, do they shrink from them, from fear of their limitations or failures being exposed, or do they bow up and do they find a way to learn to improve, to grow and develop from those setbacks? …
People who succeed, who find fulfilling careers and happy lives, do not make excuses. Instead of spending energy offering excuses, even valid ones, they spend time using the challenge to grow, to develop, to chart a new strategy or plan. They take accountability or ownership of their process.
WTA, Women’s Sports Foundation and World TeamTennis founder | Simmons College
Sometimes I think it’s really important to see it to be it. When I was 13, I got to see the No. 1 player in the world, Althea Gibson, the first African-American to ever get to play in a sanctioned tournament in 1950. She was our Jackie Robinson of tennis. I got to see her at 13, so I knew what the No. 1 person in the world looked like, how she played, and I knew if I wanted to be No. 1 I would have to be at least as good or better. I learned a lot that day from her and how good I would have to be.
Be a problem solver. It’s really important to be a problem solver. As you go through the day, that’s all we do; you know that? In 1970, there were nine of us that started women’s professional tennis, and it was very difficult. Nobody thought we would get it done. We signed a $1 contract with Gladys Heldman. We were called The Original Nine. We crossed over the line in the sand. We had no idea what was going to happen. We were going to be threatened. We weren’t going to be able to play Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, all these big tournaments ever again — and we didn’t care. We felt like we had nothing to lose and we had to go for it for the future generations. We talked about the future generations. We wanted any girl born in this world if she were good enough to have the opportunity to compete, to be recognized, and make a living. That’s what The Original Nine talked about: This is for the future.
Coastal Carolina University football coach; chairman and former CEO of TD Ameritrade | Bentley University
I would have no doubt that the coaches and the players of a national championship team would say be caring about other people on the team, worrying about the needs of other people on the team. Worrying about somebody else is part of the reason why they were as successful as they were. But I think where you really see this is in the family. … When I was 13, we had a little family meeting, and my parents told us that my mom was going to be in the hospital for a few days. Other than she having babies, nobody in our family ever went in the hospital. Frankly, we didn’t think much of it.
That night I remember seeing my dad on his knees on his bed crying. My dad died about five years ago of Alzheimer’s when he was in his late 80s. It was the only time in my life I ever saw my father cry. I asked him what was the matter. He says, “Son I’m really worried about mommy.” I went to bed that night, and remember, I was a gang kid; I thought I was a real badass. … I was the oldest, and it hit me I had never ever told my mom that I loved her. I remember praying that night and saying “God, take care of my mom and I promise I’ll never let that happen.” Mom eventually came home, and I never let that happen again.
Former Microsoft CEO; prospective L.A. Clippers owner | University of Washington
I don’t know what got me to drop out of business school and come to Microsoft. My parents thought I was a whack-job. Neither one of them graduated college, and they thought this was really a wild idea. I was lucky. I seized the day. Microsoft. One day, some guys fly in from IBM, and all of a sudden, we figure out we could actually provide all the software they need for this thing that became the personal computer. …
Seize the personal opportunities that are in front of you too. I really believe that people need to have more than one thing in their life. I feel fortunate: I have a life partner, I have kids, I have a family, and you need to seize those opportunities in addition to the ones that you will find in front of you absolutely professionally.
I am 58 years old, and I too don’t know what I am doing again. I retired from Microsoft earlier this year. It’s a wonderful opportunity, frankly, for Microsoft. Fresh blood, fresh ideas, fresh thinking, a fresh leader who is outstanding in Satya Nadella, but new opportunities for the company, and I look forward to new opportunities for me. One of those, I’m afraid to admit, I might be pursuing down in Los Angeles. Please forgive me for that. That’s a passion for sports. … The search for opportunity doesn’t stop. It’s there in front of you at all times.
Nike co-founder and chairman | Stanford University
Ten years from now, the first of you will be asked to give the commencement speech to what will then be the finest class in the school’s history. You’ll be a bit torn. You will multi-task to the max. Two kids. One has an ear infection and needs to get to the doctor right away. Your husband is more needy than usual. And he has a flight in the morning to Europe for 10 days. Your company is at a critical point in its strategic planning and everybody looks to you for what the answers will be. Plus, the company has a PR crisis. And you have TV appearances scheduled for five days straight. And that golden Lab that you’ve had for all of two years has all of a sudden decided he’s not housebroken.
There is no time.
There is … no … time.
And then you’ll accept — because of the honor, because it’s a chance to have some influence on the most able, best prepared young people on the planet. And you’ll accept, though it’s hard to see now, because there is a part of you that longs to go back to a place and a time and a self forever gone. And in looking for things to say, include in your consideration moments from the school’s history. You might even look back to that time in the deep past, that moment over six decades before, when Frank Shallenberger, the professor of entrepreneurship, said the words that meant so much to me, the words that became the mantra for his class, the words that said, “The only time you must not fail is the last time you try.”
ESPN broadcaster | Queens University of Charlotte
All I really have over you is experience, and I’m also taller than every one of you and can post you up. But there are a few things I’ve learned over the years that may make you think and may be of some minor help.
First, take pictures. Take a lot of pictures. In the future, you are really going to like the way that you look now. This is probably the smallest that your butt will ever be, and you have the most hair now that you’ll ever have, so memorialize it. ...
Next play. This is a concept in my life that has been really important. I learned it from the guy I played for in college, Mike Krzyzewski. I played for Coach K for four years, I coached on his staff for three, and it’s a thing I say to myself every single day multiple times. Next play. Coach K believes that basketball is a fast game and you can’t dwell on something that you do positively and you can’t dwell on the negative. You’ve got to move on to the next play right away. You can analyze things later. You have to move on and you can’t get upset and hang your head and you can’t celebrate. You’ve got to move on to the next play.
Arizona Diamondbacks chief baseball officer; three-time World Series-winning manager | Washington University
There’s a real emphasis now on machines, and what they produce. And baseball: It’s this thing with metrics and analytics, and they claim that they can tell you who to play, how to play, when to make changes, and that’s … a nice tool. I will suggest that you study and prepare with all that kind of information, but when you get into it, be aware of the reliance on machines and prepared knowledge. So those are the worst of times. It used to be easier.
Now, the best of times. Because of what’s available to you, you can incorporate all that and go forward, and you actually have more opportunities. And here’s a really important message: We need you. All of us that are looking to the young folks coming forward — in your case: graduates — are very soon going to be in the workforce pursuing, personally and professionally. We need you. We need you to step forward and be as excellent as you can be.
NBC Sports broadcaster, former professional tennis player | Elon University
My world in my 20s was all about trying to play professional tennis, but my knees were bad, and frankly so was my serve, and by 23 I was washed up; unemployed. So I needed another dream, and while I was figuring out what I should be, I was teaching tennis and doing some writing, and I started to get some TV work too. My love of tennis morphed into a love of all sports and the stories they tell, and I’ve been telling stories ever since.
I’m lucky enough and maybe dumb enough to not have been terribly worried about what I was going to be when I was 23 years old. If you have an open mind, you can push in any direction you want. … While I’m happy to report that my salary is exponentially higher than what it was when I was 18 years old, I’m not exponentially happier than I was when I was 18. I wasn’t poor back then. I just didn’t have any money and truly enjoyed where I was and who I was with and what I was doing and all the stuff that I imagined was ahead of me. All of which is to say, whatever you do when you leave Elon, treat it like it’s the most important job you’ll ever have.
Under Armour CEO, founder | Marymount University
I’d like to encourage some, if not many, if not all, of you to think about what it means to be an entrepreneur. Thinking about the journey, class of 2014: The first piece of advice that I’d like to give you is something that I’ve lived my life by and really drive Under Armour by. It’s a very simple theme. It says that when I started my company, I was always smart enough to be naïve enough to not know what we could not accomplish. You’ve got to think about it for a second: Smart enough to be naïve enough to not know what we could not accomplish — because people start, and they have all these ideas of what right now you can do and frankly what you can’t do [and] what is outside of your grasp. And I’m here to tell you, less than just a few miles from where you sit today, I was a graduate exactly like you without an exact plan or specific route as to what I was going to do to run and drive my company, but I knew that I generally had an idea.
ESPN broadcaster, former NFL All-Pro center | Trine University
People who succeed in life will be critical of themselves early and often. And so as you embark on your next journey, if you’re an employer, an employee, if you go back to school, I would encourage you to evaluate yourself often. Check and see, “Am I heading the right direction? Am I doing the things that I said I would do? Am I aligning with these goals?” And make them effective goals; don’t make them all be long-term. Give yourself short ones that you know you can manage.
I had the opportunity to negotiate the CBA, which is a multibillion-dollar deal that lasts over 10 years. I felt very unqualified to go do it if I’m very frank with you. My teammates and other players in the league asked me if I would go and negotiate on our behalf, and I remember telling them, “I will go do it, and I will represent you men.” Now understand that I’m representing 2,000 active players, 18,000 former players and countless future players. I said I’ll do it under one condition: that you give me the goals that we’re trying to obtain. Because I can walk in any room and negotiate whatever you want as long as I know the direction I’m heading, but you have to give me these points of contact so I can go back and evaluate myself regularly. I try to apply that to my life in all different areas and different facets, and I would encourage you to do the same.