BOSTON -- New England Patriots Pro Bowl special-teamer Matthew Slater was the 2017 recipient of the Bart Starr Award for exemplifying character and leadership on and off the field, and watching him on Friday afternoon as a special guest speaker at the Pine Street Inn graduation reflected why he was a fine choice.
The Pine Street Inn, New England's largest provider of permanent supportive housing, emergency shelter, job training and street outreach to homeless and formerly homeless individuals, honored its Class of 2017 on Friday.
The graduates, who ranged in age from their 20s to 60s, wore caps and gowns and received diplomas to acknowledge their completion of job training programs in food services and housekeeping.
Slater said he has been asked to speak at various graduations but often declines. Not this time.
“This one was really important for me,” Slater said after the ceremony. “I know the mission here, I know what they do with folks, I’ve seen it first-hand. And I know what this means to them. Having had family members in struggling times, when they needed a hand, they got that helping hand and were able to turn their lives around. Hopefully, for these folks, this is an opportunity for them to turn their lives around and head in a positive direction.”
Slater was joined on the main stage by Lyndia Downie, the president and executive director of the Pine Street Inn, and John Barros, the chief of economic development for the city of Boston.
After Downie and Barros addressed the graduates and guests, Slater delivered his remarks:
“Good afternoon. Ms. Downie, Pine Street Inn staff, I just want to thank you for having me. It’s truly an honor for me to be here today. This was very important for me to be here. My pregnant wife [Shahrzad] at home, she wanted to be here as well, but she sends her regards.
“It is an honor to be up here on stage with people that are having an impact in our community and trying to better our neighborhoods. So let’s hear it for these folks up on stage.
“But today is about the Class of 2017. Can we hear it for them one more time?
“It’s quite ironic that I find myself here, in Boston. I’ve been here 10 years. If you had asked me 15 years ago, ‘Would I have ever left Southern California, where I grew up?’ I would have said, ‘Absolutely not.’ Let me tell you why. We have the best hamburgers in all the nation, called In-N-Out Burger. I live right down the street from Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Disneyland. But most importantly, in the middle of January and February, I was wearing shorts and flip-flops down on a beach. So I’m thinking to myself as a young man, there’s no reason for me to leave this place.
“But my journey had different twists and turns in it. There was a specific plan that I believe was destined for me to end up being here and eventually be part of something very special. Not only on the football field, but in the community. I’ve been able to build some tremendous relationships here, get to know some great folks over the years, and I find out that sometimes the plan you have for yourself is not always the best plan. Sometimes the unknown out there, and the circumstances you can’t control in life, make you who you are and lead you to a better place. I’m certainly convinced that’s the case with all of you here today.
“I think each and every one of you has a unique story to tell. The journey has been different, challenging, trying at times. But it’s all brought you here to today. I’m sure there were ups and downs, things you would have liked to have done differently, things that you’re proud of. All of that is part of your story, and all of that makes you unique. There is no one else on this planet that has the same story as each and every one of you. I want you to embrace that. It’s important to embrace that.
“The game of football has been a great teacher for me. I’ve really been fortunate to be around this game my entire life. I’ve learned a lot of lessons through the game of football that I believe tie in to what we face every day in life.
“There is one lesson, in particular, that I come back to year in and year out, day in and day out, it seems. And that’s a lesson in adversity. In life, there are not a lot of guarantees. As we just said, our stories are different, our paths are different. But there is one guarantee I know for sure: All of us, at some point in some way, shape or form, are going to face some type of adversity. I think many of you here today know that very well. You’ve faced adversity. But the thing you have done, in spite of that adversity, is pick yourself up and continue on. I can’t tell you how inspiring that is for me, the smiles on your faces. This is a huge accomplishment. You didn’t let the adversity you faced keep you from pressing onward. And I think that deserves a round of applause.
“Because of the adversity many people face in their lives, they are left with decisions to make. Am I going to continue on? Am I going to lose belief in myself? Am I going to turn on the people that care about me? Am I going to finish the task that I started?
“I think a huge problem for us in society today is, often times, we start things that we don’t finish. That goes for all of us. I’m also talking to myself. But I think what you have the living proof of is that people can still have belief in themselves and finish what they started. You guys started something, and you’re here today because you finished. I think that says a lot about each and every one of you. I want to challenge you going forward to keep that mentality. When you start something, finish it. I think we’d be a lot better off as a society if we all embraced that mentality. You are examples to all of us in the room that it’s something we need to strive for, and continue to reach for. I thank you for that.
“I see today as a day to celebrate. I see today as a day that you should all leave with a smile on your face -- not simply because you’re graduates, but because today is a springboard to bigger and better things. I think this is just a stop on a journey to bigger and better for all of you. Why I say that is that you’ve already displayed the discipline, the fortitude, the belief, to finish what you started. I think if you take those same mindsets and apply them to the future to whatever job, whatever challenge you’re going to face -- because there will be more of them -- all of you can do something great. I truly believe that. But I need each and every one of you to believe that same thing. I need you to understand that today is a day to celebrate not only what you’ve done in the past, but what you’re going to do in the future.
“I also want to challenge the friends and family in the room to continue to pray, encourage and support these graduates up here. We weren’t made to do life by ourselves. We were made to have relationships. We were made to do this thing together. So we all need one another. I challenge the graduates to continue to rely and lean on one another. But ultimately, it’s to maintain that belief in yourself, because what you’ve overcome to be sitting here today, I mean, me playing a football game on Sunday is nothing compared to that. So I tip my hat to you for what you’ve shown.
“I’m a man of few words. I just want to say thank you for having me up here today. Again, I could not be more proud of the way you’ve overcome adversity and continued to believe in yourself and finish what you started. So, Class of 2017, congratulations and God bless you all.”