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From Where I Sit: A Graduation Speech for Student-Athletes

by Brad Muller

From where I sit, graduation from college must be pretty surreal for student-athletes. A few will have the chance to play professionally. Most won’t. That’s the harsh reality every athlete faces. At some point you have to stop playing the game.

There are plenty of great speeches at graduations. I have to admit though, I don’t remember anything that the guest speaker said at my high school or college graduation. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, it’s easier to make great speeches live past graduation day.

For me, having spent the last 30 years working in intercollegiate athletics, graduations mean the end or near end of another sports cycle. It means that some of the student-athletes I have had the opportunity to know are moving on to other things.

I’ve never been asked to speak at a graduation, nor do I expect to. However, if I were asked to speak, I’d like it to be one of those practical speeches, chock full of great advice, especially if I was addressing a room full of student-athletes. It would go something like this:

Most people are going to stand up here and tell you to eat right, take care of your body, put your cell phone away when you get home from work, question everything, wear sunscreen, and make your bed. First of all, yes, I agree with all of that, but let’s move on.

Let’s face it, a lot of the most important things in life you probably learned in preschool. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Brush your teeth. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t eat paste.

All sound advice.

Let’s be practical. A lot of your life has played out on social media, whether it was personal stuff you put out there each day or information put out there from Athletics Department or team accounts. That’s fine, but for now, let’s not feel like we have to put our entire life on social media and constantly search for the right selfie. See life through your own eyes instead of your cell phone and Instagram account. As I get older, I find this statement to be true: when I was young, I didn’t care what people thought. When I got older, I cared too much about what people thought. Now I realize, most people aren’t thinking about me as much as I had thought!

Speaking of cell phones, technically they are phones, right? If you haven’t done it yet or not sure if you ever did it, be sure you actually have voicemail set up on your cell phone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called people about job leads or internships only to hear a generic voice say, “The number you have reached does not have voicemail set up or the mailbox is full. Please try again later.” Trust me, an employer will leave a message, but they might not call back.

Once you are done with your respective sport and have to get a “normal” job, find a job you enjoy, even if the pay isn’t great. Be willing to pay your dues. There is nothing worse than having a job you hate going to every day. To borrow an over-used sports phrase, “trust the process.” You won’t start at the top, but some of the most satisfying times will be found on that journey. Sometimes you have to take a job to realize what it is you don’t want to do. Don’t be afraid to move to a different part of the country or the world. You never know who you will meet!

Which brings me to this. When it comes to “settling down” with someone you want to spend your life with in the future, find someone who looks at you every day (even on your worst day) the way you looked at yourself in the mirror before you went to Five Points while in college. Also, make sure that special person is someone who likes to leave parties at the same time you do.

If you have the means and some time, get a dog, and give him or her a human name. That way you’ll always have someone that’s happy to see you, no matter what. Give it human name so if you have nothing to do and someone calls to ask what you’re doing, you can say, “Stanley and I are just going to sit home and watch a movie tonight.”

And don’t get one of those dogs that costs thousands of dollars because they’re some kind of puff-doodle hybrid breeding mix between two kinds of dogs that probably couldn’t stand to be in the same room. The shelters have plenty of mutts who will gleefully wag their tail every time you ask them, “who’s a good boy?”

Having a dog also means you have to commit to it. Dogs aren’t cheap, so you have to budget. You have to take them on walks. You have to take care of someone other than yourself. Budgeting and exercising are excellent habits, and dogs are nothing but love! If you can’t make time for the dog, don’t get one.

Before I send you on your way, just remember that nobody owes you anything. Starting right now, it doesn’t matter what your grade point average is, nor does it matter how fast you can run or high you can jump. At some point, you will fail. Everyone has at some point.

What matters is how much you are willing to struggle and how you treat other people. But you learned that in preschool.

What advice would you have for a student-athlete graduating from college? Hit me up on Twitter at @SCBrad92.