I was not going to originally post anything about this, but I have been asked by a few individuals (parents and students) if there was a way I could get more people to hear it. They liked the message I had delivered to their students. So, here it is…
I was put on the program to give a speech to the graduating seniors at their end of the year banquet this past Thursday (6/12/14) night. After not being sure what to say, I decided to go with what I believe based on my experience moving from high school athletics into college athletics and then life. I am a firm believer in the power of character. By that, I mean the word as an umbrella for all those other words that really fall under it. The only trick was (as it is here) not to get too wordy with the multiple personal examples I could give. Suffice it to say, I kept it vague (but to the point) as I used to when presenting the sportsmanship award at my previous high school. The speech in its entirety, went as follows:
“First I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak. I have a message I want you to take with you after the awards are passed out and graduation is over.
You see, these nights are special to me for a few reasons, but mainly because of the role sports played in my own life. Some of you know and some of you don't...that I was lucky enough to participate in sports at a fairly high level throughout high school and college. I learned many lessons from my participation in sports that have helped me succeed in life. Among them were the ideas of effort, character, how to win, and how to lose.
What I consider to be the most important one is what I would like to see you all take with you as you move on to whatever comes next in life. You have all heard the saying, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." Well, I want to add a little something more to that idea that is more relevant in life. "It's not whether you win or lose...ultimately; it's about acting with pride, integrity, and then what you do with that win or loss.
As athletes, you possess a distinct difference from those who have never had the experiences you have on the field of competition. Personally, I remember working through hot August days and late into the winter nights just to win that important game or match. That feeling...that irreplaceable feeling when you win. I also remember the other side. That awful feeling of defeat. After working so hard to be overwhelmed with that feeling of failure.
I came to discover that in the end, whether you have won or lost is not really the issue or even lesson. You have never been assured victory; so all you could do is go out on your field and leave everything you had there. You know the saying...blood, sweat and tears, but more importantly...heart.
Whether or not you honestly gave your all is something only you truly know and therefore, need to live with. I see it as the difference between losing and being beat.
Close your eyes for a minute. Think back to a time when victory was not yours, but you poured every ounce of yourself into the contest. While defeat is never easy, it was easier to get back up and get back on track knowing you had done all you could. It just wasn't your time. Maybe you hadn't prepared hard enough.
Now think about that time defeat was expected. You were losing and loss was inevitable. Until you found you had more to give, didn’t quit, dug down and did just that, and because of that...you won. Certainly, either way...you end up winning if you learn the lesson provided.
I'm not saying anything new….just trying for a different application as you transition from the field to life. Teddy Roosevelt explained it by saying... “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
What I’m saying as we honor you tonight is this...your participation in athletics has given you an edge if you choose. You are moving on in life and no matter your course, are going to experience wins and losses, but that is old hat for you. There is a new world out there for you.
Use what your experiences here as athletes at Seekonk High School have taught you. Pick a dream, "dare greatly," and go after it. You may not succeed, but who knows, you may surprise yourself. Either way, leave it all out there every time and never quit. You may not always come out on top, but whatever you do... don't lose... make them beat you.
One last thought…as Mr. Forbes put it… “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” Take that lesson with you and I promise you will be successful.
I offer my most sincere congratulations to you. I truly wish you the best of luck. You have made all those around you, but most importantly yourselves proud. Now go out and continue to do just that.”
What’s important is this…
Education, all of it, is about creating and taking advantage of opportunities. Sometimes they are presented in the fashion of a win; other times they come at what feels like the darkest hour. No matter which doesn’t matter if we are mentally unavailable to recognize them. As adults it is our responsibility to teach students the character, mental toughness, and ability to go beyond their expectations, push through the losses, and properly celebrate the wins. There is a lot of personal background in this for me, which comprises who I am today. But that is for another post…
Your comments on the importance of this subject are always welcome...