Graduating student-athletes, parents and friends: It’s a privilege to address you as you receive your high school or college diplomas. Congratulations on reaching this milestone. Although not all of you have experienced the same degree of success athletically, you’re to be commended for your time and effort while pursuing and completing your classroom education.
As student-athletes, some of you won individual championships. Others of you helped lead your team to a championship. Still others were good enough to have won a championship, but came up short. And, let’s face it, some of you weren’t overly talented and never had much chance of winning anything, but you improved your game and did the best you could.
But enough with the pleasantries; let’s cut to the chase. Regardless of whether you won a championship, what difference does it make? Are you a better person because you won a trophy?
I’d like to share some thoughts from the book “Who Switched the Price Tags?” by sociologist and author Tony Campolo.
Campolo says that each year his church has a student recognition day when young people who are students at colleges and universities are asked to report on how their educational experiences have been going.
On one such Sunday, after the students gave their reports, his pastor got up and delivered some closing words.
“Children,” he said, “you’re going to die! You may not think you’re going to die, but you’re going to die. One of these days, they’re going to take you out to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the church and eat potato salad.
“When you were born,” he said, “you alone were crying and everybody else was happy. The important question I want to ask is this: When you die, are you alone going to be happy, leaving everybody else crying? The answer depends on whether you live to get titles or you live to get testimonies.
“When they lay you in the grave, are people going to stand around reciting the fancy titles you earned, or are they going to stand around giving testimonies of the good things you did for them?
“Will they list your degrees and awards, or will they tell about what a blessing you were to them?
“Will you leave behind just a newspaper column telling people how important you were, or will you leave crying people who give testimonies of how they’ve lost the best friend they ever had?
“There’s nothing wrong with titles. Titles are good things to have. But if it ever comes down to a choice between a title or a testimony—go for the testimony.”
Here’s the deal. All of your trophies, plaques and medals will be forgotten someday—and maybe sooner than you think. When you return to your school 10, 15 or 20 years from now, you will find a dusty collection of trophies and plaques, if you can find them displayed at all.
Please don’t misunderstand; participating in athletics and winning championships is a worthy activity, but it’s not life and death. You may have some lasting memories, but most people won’t remember or care.
What you do for others will ultimately mean more than how many games you win or how much money you make.
None of us knows whether we have years, months, days, minutes or seconds left on Earth, but as long as we have breath, we can make a difference.
In closing, let me leave you with some real words of wisdom from Mother Teresa and legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
John Wooden said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
Need I say more?