Here is the full text of his address:
"Hello everyone. It’s good to be back in this stadium, obviously. Chancellor [Rebecca] Blank and the Board of Regents, faculty, parents, family members, friends, distinguished guests, thank you. Obviously it’s an honor to be here today, and Bill, thank you for that introduction, really good. I didn’t know all that about you, but it’s fun to hear. And congratulations to the class of 2016.
"You know, Chancellor Blank, you talked about beating Minnesota; I remember beating Minnesota at Minnesota pretty good too. It feels good to be back at Camp Randall. I have stood in this end zone many times before, but never quite in a uniform this ridiculous. I’m just waiting for the jump-around.
"I was really excited to come back to Madison on a weekend. It’s been awhile since I’ve gone to Wando’s and seen you guys at Wando’s drinking your fish bowls. That’s a joke -- maybe. We’ve got some fun spots in Seattle, but nothing quite like Wando’s.
"Of course, I’m also here to share some things I’ve learned -- things like if you’re dating a woman that’s way out of your league, ask her to marry you. If you can throw a football 80 yards, for some reason people think that’s pretty cool. And if you’re playing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and you’ve got 26 seconds left and you’re down by four and it’s second-and-goal on their 1-yard line, try not to throw an interception. That’s purely, purely hypothetical though, of course.
"But no, here’s something that I really have learned. You can’t do it alone. You’ve got to surround yourself with good people. I’m lucky to have some really good people with me today -- my mom, my sister and my fiancée. And class of 2016, you’ve got some really good people with you today too. So let’s give it up for parents, grandparents, family and friends, professors and mentors who have helped you make it this far. Let’s have a big round of applause.
"Of course, today though is about the graduates. Earlier today, I had a chance to meet just a few of the members of the class of 2016. And I was truly inspired. I met Marcus Bolles. When Marcus came here the first time, he failed a few classes and had to transfer out. But he didn’t give up. After community college, he came back to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and today he’s getting that bachelor’s degree.
"I met Leah Olson. Leah’s 6-year-old son Dylan has cerebral palsy, but he’s not willing to let that define him. And neither is Leah. She’s always fought for her son, and she’s graduating today with a degree in social work so she can fight for even more families like theirs. I met Pablo Montes. Pablo’s the first in his family to go to college. There were semesters when he worked three different jobs while studying full-time. One semester he couldn’t make enough to pay rent. So he was homeless, living on friends’ couches. It hasn’t been easy for Pablo, and yet today he’s graduating with a double major in sociology and human development. I met Katherine Nachman. Katherine served our country as an intelligence analyst in the Marine Corps. Then she went to school and earned her undergraduate degree. And today she’s graduating with a master’s in social work.
"You know, meeting with Marcus and Leah and Pablo and Katherine and hearing stories about all of the people here in this stadium who have already beaten the odds and changed the world, I admit, I almost felt kind of confused. I mean, I’m not the most conventional person to give a charge to the graduates. I was a college student myself just six years ago. And the thought of turning 30, just being 27, still kind of scares me. And when a 300-pound guy is chasing me down the field with a big ‘G’ on the side of his helmet, wearing green and yellow, the last thing I’m thinking about is: How do I use my liberal arts degree?
"But here’s what I realized. In a few hours, all of us will leave Camp Randall with the exact same mission: to make the most of whatever talents we were born with, whatever gifts God’s given us. Because if you’re earning a degree from UW-Madison, the question isn’t whether you have something to offer to the world -- you definitely have something to offer to the world. -- he question is how and whether you’ll do it.
"There’s something my dad used to always teach me. I remember playing tee-ball as a kid, and not to brag, but I was a really good tee-ball player. I’m talking really good. I crushed tee-ball. So even though I was just 3 or 4 years old, I remember thinking, ‘You know, I can be something special one day.’ My dad thought I might be getting ahead of myself so he’d set me straight. He’d say, ‘Son, potential just means you haven’t done it yet.’ Potential just means you haven’t done it yet.
"Already in my career I’ve seen that lots of people have potential, but not everyone does it. And I’ve learned that the difference isn’t the way that people handle themselves when things go well. When you land the job you want, or you go to the school you want, or you achieve something maybe a little bit earlier than you expected, go ahead and celebrate it, be happy. Enjoy it. But remember that the moments when life tells you yes aren’t the ones that define you. The moments that really matter are the moments when life tells you no. That’s what I wanted to focus on today. What do you do when life tells you no?
"You may be surprised to hear this, but life has told me no lots of times in my career. In 2007, I went to college at NC State because I wanted to play baseball and football. Most of all, I wanted to play quarterback in the National Football League. Fast-forward to 2008, my first eligible year on the football team, and I’m fighting against four other guys for the starting job. In training camp, there’s a red jersey that they put on quarterbacks. Nah, not this guy. They don’t give me one of those. I’m doing everything. I’m catching punts. I’m catching routes. I’m getting hit. I mean, I know I can play quarterback. I just need the chance.
"About two weeks before our first game, the coach calls me into his office and tells me I’m not getting that chance. Excuse my country voice here, but he says, ‘Son, I’m switching your position. I’m moving you to safety.’ He’s not asking me. He’s telling me. I could have just gone along with it, and maybe I should have just gone along with it. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t ready to take no for an answer. I prayed about it. I talked to my mom. I talked to my brother. I would’ve talked to my dad, but he was on his deathbed at the time. And after a few days, I just came to this peace.
"Now, this is the part of the speech where I’m supposed to tell you to believe in yourself. But those days of praying and all that, that wasn’t about believing in myself. They were about knowing myself. Let me put it this way: I love singing. Michael Jackson, I’m Michael Jackson’s Tito. I’m Janet Jackson’s long lost brother. My moonwalk cuts the rug. Dancing machine, smooth criminal, this guy. But no matter how badly I want to be a pop star, it would not matter how much self-confidence I had or have or how many hours I spend at the studio. Trust me on this. I cannot sing. So the question I asked when life told me no was: What am I capable of? Am I capable of doing what I want to do? I really had to think about it. And when it came to playing quarterback, the answer was yes. I knew I could throw a football and move really well. I knew I had the focus. I knew I had the ability to succeed. I just needed a chance.
"Once I knew what I was capable of, I didn’t feel afraid to let everyone else know it too. So a few days after our first meeting, I walked back into my coach’s office, chest big, feeling good. I’m 18, 19 years old at the time. And I said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be your starting quarterback. I’m going to be first-team freshman All-American. And I’m going to be first-team All-ACC. I’m going to play in the National Football League for a long time. I’m going to win multiple Super Bowls, and I’m going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. What do you think?’ He looked at me like I was crazy, scratching his head. But three days later, he named me his starting quarterback.
"So here’s my first charge to the graduates. When life tells you no, ask yourself honestly: What am I capable of? And once you know the answer, don’t be afraid to let everyone else know it too.
"Another time life told me no was during my junior year when I was playing baseball. My freshman and sophomore year at NC State, I had about 450 to 500 at-bats. Now it’s the first few weeks of my junior season, the draft-eligible year, and I’m barely playing. And honestly, I don’t know why. This one weekend, we played UC-Irvine. Both teams are top-five in the country. I don’t play at all the whole weekend -- nothing. I’m not going to lie. I was pretty frustrated. But my dad used to always tell me, ‘Be ready. Always be ready.’ So I decided I’m not going to complain. Instead, every time our defense comes in and we’re up to bat, I’ll put my helmet on. I’ll put my gloves on -- Nomar Garciaparra style. I get my bat in hand, and I stand there waiting -- first inning, second inning, third inning. All the way to the 10th. We get to the bottom of the 10th or 11th, and there’s two guys on base with one out. I’m just sitting there with my helmet on looking like a dork, and a guy pops up. Two outs. Then I hear it. ‘Wilson, you’re up.’
"And this guy’s pitching it nasty. I’m talking he’s throwing 125 miles per hour, if that’s possible. I mean fuego. I mean, he’s legit. The first pitch is a slider, and what do I do with it? Swing and miss. Next pitch, a slider in the dirt. Swing again, shouldn’t have swung, strike two. I’m one strike away from losing the game. It’s the first time I’ve played in awhile. The guy throws me a fastball high and inside. I still don’t know to this day why he threw me a fastball. And what do I do with it? Wham! Boom! Game over. Hit it over the fence. Now everyone in the stands that day, they saw the game-winning home run. But they probably didn’t notice the guy who spent all those innings on the edge of the dugout with a helmet on his head and a bat in his hand. But if I hadn’t stayed prepared like that for 10 or 11 innings, that home run, that never would have happened. So that’s my second charge to the graduates. When life tells you no, stay ready. Always be ready.
"Now so far I’ve told you about two times for whatever reason I was able to turn things around. But sometimes life tells you no and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve spoken a lot already about my dad. My mom and dad were the biggest influences in my life. No one supported my athletic career more than he did. I got drafted to play baseball on June 8, 2010. The next night, my dad passed away. We knew it was coming. My dad had diabetes, and he was really sick. But I’ll never forget, I’m standing with my mom in the hallway and the doctors come and they say, ‘Do you want to go back in the room?’ We said, ‘You know, we’ll stay out here for another 15 minutes or so.’ So we keep standing there just talking, and suddenly we have this feeling of God coming between us, and we both think, ‘You know what? We need to go back into the room.’ Before I walk through the door, I can see the EKG moving just fine. I take one step into the door and say, ‘Dad, I’m here.’ The line goes flat.
"I miss my dad every single day. People have asked me if I had five more minutes with him, what would I say to him? But I wouldn’t say anything at all. I’d just hug him. That’s what I’d do. Because that’s the kind of relationship my dad and I had. He gave me so much. Maybe most of all, he gave me the gift of perspective. Losing him was hard, but thinking about him now, I don’t feel sad. I feel blessed. I feel blessed for all the days we got together. I feel blessed because I know he’s in a better place. And I feel blessed knowing that if he were here today, the thing that he’d most be proud of isn’t a Super Bowl ring or a new contract or a big speech at Camp Randall. He’d be proud of my family -- what a strong woman my mom is, about my brother and how well he’s doing, about the amazing, amazing young woman my sister has become. That’s what he’d be proud of. So that’s my third charge to the graduates.
"And maybe, maybe it’s the hardest one of them all. When life tells you no, find a way to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t make the painful moments any less painful. But it does mean you don’t have to live forever in the pain. You don’t have to live forever in that no. Because if you know what you’re capable of, if you’re always prepared, and you keep things in perspective, then life has a way of turning a no into yes. That’s what brought me to University of Wisconsin.
"The summer before my senior year of college, I’m playing minor-league baseball. I called my football coach at NC State and said, ‘Hey coach, I’d like to come back for my senior year.’ He told me I wasn’t coming back. He said, ‘Listen son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League. You’re too small. There’s no chance. You’ve got no shot. Give it up.’ Of course, I’m on this side of the phone saying, ‘So you’re telling me I’m not coming back to NC State? I won’t see the field?’ He said, ‘No son, you won’t see the field.’ Now this was everything I had worked for. And now it was completely gone. If I wanted to follow my dream I had to leave NC State. I had no idea if I would get a second chance somewhere else.
"Well, the news that I was transferring out went out around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I’ll never forget. I was in Rome, Georgia playing in the Atlanta Braves organization. I wasn’t sure what would happen. And then at 4:15, I get a call from the Auburn Tigers. And then I got another call, and another and another and another. Most of these coaches had never met me, but it turned out they had heard about the way I had handled myself, not just on the field but off of it as well, during the good times and the bad ones too. In the end, what had started out as the biggest no of my career became the biggest yes of my career.
"Because I didn’t get many second chances. But this second chance was right here from the University of Wisconsin. From the moment I saw this campus, I knew this was the place that I wanted to be. From my coaches to my teammates to the guys in the equipment room to my classmates to of course the fans, everyone I met was so incredibly welcoming. And even though I only spent about a year here, I got to see how the Wisconsin Idea isn’t just a motto, it’s a commitment to work hard and surround yourself with good people. To never stop improving and to make the world just a little bit better everyday. We often think about heroes in life -- people like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Ben Franklin. We think about their biggest accomplishments. What we don’t always think about though is the moments that made them who they were. When no one was looking but they made themselves just a little bit better anyway. When they came up short, but they didn’t quit. Starting out in life and closing the divide about who they were and who they were going to become.
"I think about this young guy from West Orange, New Jersey. He became deaf at an early age. Scarlet fever got the best of him. However, that no did not stop him from creating the light bulb. That man’s name --Thomas Edison.
"And now it’s hailing. Thanks, Thomas.
"See, Thomas Edison once said, ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ He was just that much closer to making the right one.
"I’m thinking a lot about those moments right now, and I bet many of you are too because if you’re here today, it’s a sign that you’ve achieved so much more and you can achieve so much more soon. Now, if my dad were here with us, this is the point where he’d remind us that potential means we just haven’t done it yet. And you know, he’d be right.
"But if we do what we need to when life tells us no, if we know what we’re capable of, if we stay prepared no matter what, if we keep our sense of perspective even when times are tough, then I know that together we’re going to do amazing things with our potential and achieve our greatest dreams.
"So, on Wisconsin. I would say good luck, but I don’t believe in good luck. Go make it happen. This is my story. Now it’s time to write your own. Congratulations to the class of 2016. I’m out."