May 11, 2015
Video courtesy of University of South Carolina Public Relations
COLUMBIA – University of South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley delivered the commencement address at the University’s graduation ceremony on Saturday at 3 p.m., which featured graduates in education and interdisciplinary studies, engineering, social work, hospitality, retail and sport management, music and the Palmetto College. Staley used her life to illustrate three important rules that she believes are the foundation of her personal and professional success – find your passion, overcome disappointment and make adjustments.
Always one to shy away from the direct spotlight, Staley used her various successes as parable for her advice. Knowing basketball was her passion from an early age, she reassured graduates that even if their degree did not reflect their passion, there was still time to find it if they would be bold in their pursuit of it.
Even with passion for a career, there would be disappointment along the way. For Staley, that came in the form of not making the U.S. Olympic team in 1992. The announcement came just before her college graduation and without another avenue for her to play basketball in the United States, her mother made arrangements for her to work at a dress shop. Forced to not dwell on her disappointment, Staley needed just one day at the dress shop to spur her into action in pursuit of her passion – call an agent to find her a team overseas. She credits her mom with holding up a mirror with the instruction, “This is your life. If you don’t like it, do something about it.” Staley reminded the graduates that with disappointment comes a choice between immobilization and motivation. Her most direct advice on translating motivation into action was to “have a belief in self far greater than anyone else’s disbelief. You have to remove all doubt that you are not worth or qualified.”
Staley cautioned graduates that such confidence had to be paired with hard work and the ability to make adjustments. “Nine times out of 10, when you put the work in, it will work out. But that one time it doesn’t, you can’t stand on principle or pride. You have to shake it off and make the adjustment.”
For Staley, that adjustment came in her move to the University of South Carolina. The culture and the makeup of her team was drastically different than that of her previous assignment in Philadelphia. Despite the differences, Staley stuck to the coaching style that had delivered seasons of success at Temple, only to find that it did not yield the same results in Columbia. “For the first losing season, I stood on principle. … After the third losing season, I had to pull out the mirror. This time I saw me. I was the problem. I was doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. It wasn’t working. I had to make an adjustment. And I did. The following season, I become a softer, less spirited coach.”
From there, the Gamecocks began the most successful four-year campaign in program history, culminating with this season’s trip to the NCAA Final Four. Still, Staley told the graduates, that her team’s wins and championships are not the way that she measures her success, although many do. While she assured everyone that the goal is still a national championship banner in Colonial Life Arena, she also assured them that would not deem her a success. Instead, Staley noted that one of the most notable things about this season was the way the team’s run to the Final Four united the entire state, and she asserted her belief that her success is “measured by those I’ve touched and inspired. I really believe that is what my life and career have been about – uniting people, lending hope and affecting change.”
Staley concluded by reminding the graduates that her story proves that anything is possible with a passion that drives you, the ability to turn disappointment into motivation and the willingness to make adjustments, even if that adjustment is to you.