I was honored and privileged to be asked to deliver the commencement address to a small group of homeschoolers of the Class of 2022, which included my daughter and eight of her teammates.
Graduates. Parents. Teachers. Parent-teachers. Families. Distinguished guests. Volleyball fans. And all the rest of My Patriots, thank you for having me here today. It is very much my honor to be here as I truly feel like I am graduating not one but nine daughters today. And before I send my nine daughters out into the cruel, dark world, while I would like to quickly share the 742 things they’re going to need to know out there, I have time for four.
Fortunately, while I was preparing this speech, I came across an interesting fact. It turns out that 90% of commencement addresses all follow the same formula. They challenge you to change the world, back it up with a catchy quote or two, tell a shared story, and pack all of your great advice into one or more of four themes: Dream big, Work hard, Embrace failure, Be kind to others. It seems too simple to be true, but think about every graduation speech you’ve ever heard. They almost all conform. It’s also kind of funny that our advice to graduates hasn’t really evolved over the years.
Now I’m not one to stray from a successful formula. Therefore, ladies, consider yourselves hereby challenged to change the world by dreaming big, working hard, embracing failure, and loving others more than yourself. I’m going to review how all of those lessons played out over this last year, but you should know that applying them in life will be more difficult than winning a national championship.
Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, says, “I think it is often easier to make progress on mega ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts but since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting.”
Our volleyball program was moderately successful in 2020, the junior season for these ladies. For the second year in a row, we earned the Silver Ball at nationals, which certainly isn’t bad, but can leave a bitter taste. Coach Doug’s daughter, Laura, finished her career, and he insisted that he was done coaching after the season.
A few months later, Doug was still helping us at spring skills camps, and our talent level began improving as more and more players were choosing to homeschool in the wake of the pandemic. I noticed a slight change in his enthusiasm, so I asked him to dinner and gave him my best recruiting speech, which included pitching that big dream idea of returning to nationals to get that Gold Ball.
Clearly he couldn’t resist my persuasive power and agreed to return. Undoubtedly, that big dream became the foundation of our season. The next step was training and preparation.
U.S. Navy SEAL Jocko Willink says that “We do not rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training.” Think about that for a moment. You can’t expect to perform something in the moment that you haven’t already worked to perform before. If you’re not familiar with Jocko, I highly recommend you check out his books and podcasts. He is one of the best voices on leadership out there and has an exceptionally handsome haircut.
Once Doug was on board, the rest of the pieces seemed to fall into place. We put together a plan of training and hard work for that summer like none the program had ever seen before. We were invited for the first time to participate in Summer League alongside the top public schools in the city. We sent our entire coaching staff to a three-day training session in Waco. And through a program called Gold Medal Squared, we brought in a pair of professional coaches to lead a full week of high-intensity training. By the time the season began, we were already in mid-season form.
U.S. President Grover Cleveland once very eloquently said, “In calm waters, every ship has a good captain.” It’s a great quote, however I prefer to remember it as better expressed by a wise philosopher from my own generation, Mike Tyson, who said: “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.”
These ladies started their season with 14 straight wins, beat their homeschool rivals for a tournament championship, went completely undefeated in the month of September, and finished the year with 42 wins and five losses. There just wasn’t a lot of failure to embrace in that season. Doug got a red card, and I’m pretty sure he learned something from that, but the signature moment came after the state championship. We had just gotten hit in the face pretty hard in the title match. As Doug put it, “We got taken behind the woodshed.” But from that same conversation came one of the truly remarkable moments of the year. Doug knew we needed to sharpen the team in the two weeks before nationals and reached out to our top rivals for a combined practice. Our willingness to acknowledge our shortcomings and address them turned out to be a major catalyst for success and set the team up for a solid national run.
Be kind to others
Morgan Freeman said, “How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time.”
As most of you know, the volleyball part of the story ends with these ladies crushing their opponent on the way to winning the Gold Ball. It is an indescribable feeling to achieve that big dream after many hours of hard work and embracing failures.
But truly my favorite thing about FEAST Volleyball, the thing of which I’m most proud, is the community. What a blessing it has been to get to do life alongside such amazing and kind people.
We had at least a dozen different players throughout the program that transferred in from an outside program. Their experiences with their prior club ranged from apathetic at best to abusive at worst. The true highlight for me were the parents who told me how thankful they are that their daughters were able to play in such a loving environment, and that our program allowed them to love the game again after abusive coaches had stolen their joy.
Of all the great things we did on court last year, I would argue that it was our kindness that was most impactful. Our kindness allowed us to attract the types of families and quality of players that ultimately led to our program earning more wins. That’s a wonderful by-product, but I’m truly moved by the impact our program’s love has had on these players and families.
Twenty years from now I will not remember all the wins and losses, but I’ll remember Senior Night. I’ll remember car decorating. I’ll remember sand fundraisers and hotel scavenger hunts. I’ll remember making breakfast tacos with Charlie Hastings, Aaron Gould, Kip Hanson, Preston James, and Jonathan Card. All amazingly wonderful men with exceptionally handsome haircuts.
Ladies, in practical terms, your graduation today means that you take over the decision-making for your life as well as the rewards and the consequences for those decisions. You are to become your own full-time ship captain.
Fear not, because you already know how to do all of these things, because you already have 18 years of experience, and because you assuredly know far more than your parents ever will. Because you have those gifts, you MUST use them to change the world for the better.
You must continue to dream big. Win another championship. Graduate from college. Become a doctor. A pilot. An author. A senator. A coach. A teacher. A mother.
You must continue to do your best at all things. On the court. In the classroom. Throughout your community. With your teams. Toward your spouse. Alongside your kids.
You must continue to embrace failure, for without failure, there is no growth. There’s a rule of life that says you are either growing or dying. A tree is either growing or it’s dying. Same with grass. Or a marriage. Or a business. Or a person. And there is no growth without failure. You must take risks to grow. There is no shame in getting hit in the face, only in not getting back up.
And perhaps most importantly, you must continue to show people you care. Stay connected with one another. Watch as your friends act selflessly. Listen as they inspire others. Ask often, “How can I help you?”
So there it is, your impressive collection of pithy quotes, shared stories, and calls to action. What an honor it has been to know you, to coach you, and to speak to you today. The last thought I leave you with is this: Ladies, zero days until the rest of your lives!