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WGU Commencement Address from Daron Roberts
WGU Commencement Address from Daron Roberts
Western Governors University
<p>WGU Commencement in Austin, Texas on October 12, 2019. Founding Director for the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation, Daron K. Roberts delivered the WGU Bachelor's Commencement Address.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>Steve Johnson: Now, it's my pleasure to introduce Daron Roberts. Daron is a former NFL coach, and author of Call an Audible. He is the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation here at the University of Texas. The center is the first university based institute dedicated to developing leadership and character curricula for high school, collegiate, and professional athletes. </p> <p>Through the center, Roberts teaches a course: A Game Plan for Winning at Life, to incoming freshman student athletes. Roberts holds a faculty appointment in the Liberal Arts Honors Program. He has received a Silver Spur Centennial Teaching Award, and the Creative Engagement Award. And he was named a distinguished faculty member by the School of Undergraduate Studies in 2015. His research revolved around the issues of rejection, failure management, and leadership. </p> <p>He's been featured in ESPN the magazine, Bloomberg, Business Week, and Sports Illustrated. His articles have appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Fortune, the Houston Chronicle, and Time magazine. Roberts is also the host of an industry leading podcast, A Tribe Called Yes. And you can access that on iTunes and Stitcher. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Daron Roberts. [Applause] </p> <p>Daron K. Roberts: All right, graduates, stand up. I know you're cozy, I don't care. All right, I want you to turn around, look up in the rafters. I want you to blow a kiss to all of the friends, and the abuelas, and the cousins, and moms and pops. [Cheers] We can't have enough gratitude, so thank you so much. Oh, look at the love. You can have a seat now, get this going. [Cheers] This is a rowdy group, I love it! </p> <p>So all of those people up there, they were with you during late nights, they brought you menudo and Whataburger. [Laughter] And now you're here. I grew up in the piney woods of East Texas. [Cheers] Here we go, we got some east Texans here. I'm a fifth generation East Texan. At the age of six my dad takes out a map of Panola County which is where we grew up. And there's a plot of land. The map was drawn in 1870. A plot of land has 160 acres and it's owned by Bill Roberts. </p> <p>Bill Roberts was my great great grandfather. And in my family, it is still a mystery how this black man in east Texas, five years removed from the end of the Civil War, found some way to accumulate 160 acres. But I remember at the age of six, my dad turned to me and he would point to the map, and he would point to me, and he would say, "We don't know how Bill Roberts got this land, but I can tell you one thing, he didn't get it from sleeping in." </p> <p>So with that, I set a goal for myself to become the governor of Texas by age 40. Ask me how old I'll be in a month. Okay, thank you, I'll tell you, 41. [Laughter] So obviously I took a wrong turn somewhere. I went to the school across the street in 1997. It was a campus of 50,000 students, I was from a small town of 12,291. I graduate and I apply to Harvard Law School. I didn't get accepted, didn't get rejected, what's in the middle? The dreaded wait list, dum, dum, dum! </p> <p>I'll paraphrase for you, here is how the letter read. "Dear, Daron, we like you. Unfortunately, we like so many more people more than we like you. [Laughter] Now, Daron, in the highly unlikely event that all of those individuals turn us down, we may reach back out to you. But Daron, if you have any viable options for law school, we highly advise you to take them. With love, Joyce P. Kerl, Dean of Admissions." </p> <p>So I was devastated. I walked around for three days in sackcloth and ashes. Worked in D.C. I reapplied each year. For four straight years I was wait listed. And I'll tell you just how lazy the admissions committee was. It was as if they printed the exact same letter, just changed the date at the top, and mailed it to me. </p> <p>My mom calls me, elementary school principal, Mount Pleasant, Texas, she calls me, and she says, "Daron, you know I love you, don't you?" Now listen, side note, if you're in a relationship, and the conversation begins with your partner telling you, "You know I love you..." there's a good chance this isn't going to end the right way. I said, "Yeah, Mom, I know you love me, you know, cared for me, gave birth, all those things." She said, "Well, Daron, I don't know how to say this, but... I don't think Harvard wants you." I said, "Ooh! Whoo!" [Laughter] Deathblow. </p> <p>I said, "Mom, you know, I go to your elementary school, and you walk through the hallways, and you see these signs like, reach for the stars, and keep your face to the sunshine." I said, "What about all that?" She said, "Yeah, honey, that's for young people." [Laughter] "You're old now." I was 26 at the time, mind you. I said, "Well I'm going to give it one more shot." So I finally get in to my dream school. I am going through the motions in law school, and then I work a football camp before my third year of school. And listen, the volunteers ask for someone to fill in. It was the best three days of my life. I was coaching 60 6th graders, none of whom had any athletic talent whatsoever. Luckily they had a coach who had no coaching abilities at all. [Laughter] We were a match made in heaven. </p> <p>But I noticed something. For the first time in my life, I did not have to set my alarm clock to get up. For three days of this camp, I was up before the crack of dawn, excited to hit the field. And so when I went back to Boston for my last year of school, I called Mom again, and I said, "Mom, I want to be a football coach. I'm excited." My mom says, "Let me put your dad on the phone." [Laughter] Enter Reverend Kurt Roberts, 42 years, Baptist minister, Mount Olive Baptist Church. </p> <p>Dad: "What is this about you wanting to be a football coach?" Daron: "Yeah, Dad, I worked this camp " he said, "Yeah, whatever." Dad: "Son, do you know how much debt you're in?" [Laughter] So let me tell you, graduates, I had racked up a quarter of a million dollars in debt between... whoo! Yeah, whoo! Is right. Between grad school, and law school. And the deal was, when I was in high school, my parents would pay for undergrad, but I was on the hook for grad and law school. And I said, "Well, Dad, you know, I got a " I was fortunate to get a full scholarship to go to undergrad. "And so by my very crude accounting... it appears you and Mom owe me around $68,422.64." [Laughter] </p> <p>So my dad, being a minister that he is, he says, "Well, son, let's pray." So we bow over the phone. He hangs up, I still haven't seen a check. [Laughter] I decided I wanted to be a coach. I wrote a letter to every team in the NFL. There are 32. Got 31 rejections. Dallas Cowboys, no. Houston Texans, no. New England Patriots, no. The Kansas City Chiefs, yes! [Cheers] There are always random Chiefs fans in any crowd. [Laughter] Coach Herm Edwards calls me and he says, "This is Herm Edwards, may I please speak with Daron Roberts?" "Yes, sir, this is he." He said, "Son, what's wrong with you? [Laughter] I read your cover letter, and you're in law school." He said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Coach, I worked this camp, and I know this is the path for me." </p> <p>He said, "Listen, son, take out a piece of paper, I want you to write this down. We're going to hire you as a training camp intern." So "training camp intern." "No pay." Okay, "no pay." "No benefits." Only gets better, "no benefits." [Laughter] He says, "You're going to be working 18 hour days." Oh. So the lawyer side of me is thinking this sounds like some kind of employment claim, right? 18 hour days, no pay, no benefits. But I said, "Sign me up." </p> <p>I did that for a season, I slept in Arrowhead in a deserted room for six months because I wanted to be the first face that Herm Edwards saw. At the end of the season, he hired me on full time, and I spent seven years coaching. And then returned back to UT to teach classes on leadership. </p> <p>I think about your journey and so many of you have pushed through the naysayers and the doubters, people on social media, right? Everyone has an opinion on what you should do with your life. But all of you carved out the time and the energy and the grit to push forward to this very moment. </p> <p>I have three thoughts for you as you launch into this next phase of your expedition. Number one, and don't be alarmed, we will die. Okay, not today. All of us will die. Time is a finite resource. You hear people say, "I have time, I have time, I have time." It is a finite resource. And at some point the clock will run out for all of us. I want you to keep pushing forward. This achievement that you have reached, this won't be the high watermark in your life. I want you to bring to every single day that you are able to wake up, to open your eyes, and to move forward. To bring an intentionality and a sense of purpose to all that you do because time waits for none of us. </p> <p>Number two, hope is not a strategy. All right, hope is not a strategy. My grandmother would always put it like this to me, she said, "Daron, you know, prayers are great, but at some point you have to put some feet on your prayers. You have to put some feet on your prayers." Listen, life favors the people who stay in motion. Hope is a beautiful thing, it keeps our face towards the sunshine, but action is the thing that keeps us alive. So all of those things that you've been thinking about doing: Opening up the LLC, starting the non profit, right, taking on a leadership position in your community. All of those things that you've been thinking about and putting off into the future, put them into the present tense. </p> <p>We're living in an age where there are no more excuses. So a 97 year old man, the University of Texas, just won the Noble Prize for chemistry. And a 16 year old girl from Sweden just held her own against the United Nations. [Applause] This is your time, regardless of age, regardless of what neighborhood you're from. This is your time to realize all of the goals that you've had in your life, so let's watch for it, and move to that end.</p> <p>And finally, stay in the deep end. Stay in the deep end. At some point all of you decided that you wanted more, and I'm sure you heard a million reasons for why you should not pursue this degree. You're too old. You don't have enough money. You have a good job. And you did it anyway. You pushed past all of the commentary that was trying to hold you back, and you said, I'm going to do this for me. I want you to hold onto that grit. Because in 2019, the barriers to entry have become exceedingly low. No office? WeWork. No Wi Fi? Starbucks. No contacts? LinkedIn. No skills? YouTube. [Laughter] No degree? WGU. [Cheers and applause] </p> <p>In 1857, Fredrick Douglas was staring as a country that was at war with itself, and this man was no stranger to waging war against the status quo. At a very early age he took on the identity of a naval officer and found his way to freedom in the North. And so facing this imminent battle in the country, he penned these words. He said, "The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing. And for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must it must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle, there is no progress." If there is no struggle, there is no progress. If there is no struggle, graduates, there is no progress. Stay in the deep end. Thank you. [Cheers and applause]</p>
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