An athlete's commencement address

Originally Published: May 17, 2011
By DJ Gallo | Page 2

CommencementAP Photo/David GoldmanThanking one's parents and "will compete in the 100 meter backstroke for food" were the most popular messages at our commencement.

Student-athletes of the Class of 2011 -- as the famous saying goes: "There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of us will go pro in something other than sports."

Those of you sitting here today are that "most of us."

Although some of you entered school with and competed alongside those who left this campus early and are now achieving fame and fortune as professional athletes, you sit here today with a college degree. Congratulations.

Although it's true you might never be given a massive shoe contract or a place on an All-Star team, your presence here today gives this institution something extremely valuable -- the chance to say to its critics: "Look, we actually graduate some of our student-athletes. Here is the proof."

Student-athletes of the Class of 2011, you are the exception that proves the rule! And we thank you for it!

[Hold for applause.]

Of course, some of you out there today will not fall into the "most of us" category. Some of you who stayed here for four years and got your degree will play professional sports -- at least for a season or two. You will serve as a role player on the roster while the players who were talented enough to leave school early, or the players so focused on their sport that they didn't pass enough classes to be here today, hold down all the starring roles.

But coaches and the media will speak of your "intangibles." You will wow your teammates with your intelligence and worldliness. You might even earn a nickname like "The Professor" or "Doc." Get a few breaks and stick around in the pro ranks long enough, and you'll be well on your way to someday becoming a head coach or team executive. And if you are lucky enough to be on a team that wins a championship, say hello to a lifetime of card-show signing-appearance money and maybe even a sports bar and grill with your name on it -- all because you are here today, diploma in hand, with a 2.25 GPA as a general studies major.

[Hold for applause.]

But most of you graduating today will never play professionally. Most of you simply aren't good enough, hence the focus on your studies. Others hope to play in the NFL or NBA. Unfortunately, those leagues won't exist next season. Whoops! Bad timing. And still others stupidly chose to play sports that don't have lucrative professional ranks. Lesson learned: Don't choose to be a wrestler when you could be a linebacker.

And that speaks to my overall point: Learning doesn't end after you leave these walls. Learning is a lifelong pursuit. There are many lessons you will learn very soon. Here are some I would like to share with you today.

Lesson No. 1: You are going to get fat.

Remember how your nonathlete friends in high school came home for Thanksgiving freshman year looking as though they had been inflated by an air hose? Now it's your turn. Now that you're cut loose from the fitness and diet regimen of a college athlete, the pounds are going to start piling on you. Your high school friends packed on the Freshman 15, but you now have the metabolism of someone four years older. You will be lucky to get away with just 15 pounds. After you throw your cap into the air at the end of today's ceremony, make sure to hold on to your gown; it might be the only item of clothing that fits you in a few weeks.

Lesson No. 2: You will not be cheered for everything you do.

Whether you played before 110,000 at the school's state-of-the-art football stadium or before 10 at ... wherever they swim here, you are familiar with the roar of the crowd or at least a smattering of applause from your parents and boyfriend or girlfriend. It motivated you and affirmed your importance.

Unfortunately, those days are over.

You will not be cheered for successfully collating a quarterly report. You will not receive high-fives from adoring fans after you return to your office from lunch. You will not receive a standing ovation after making a successful sales call. It's depressing, I know. But realize that most of the people you will work with have never been cheered for anything in their lives. That's why they make office birthday parties such a big deal. Just humor them. Sing your heart out because Phil from marketing will turn 43 on Saturday. It's the right thing to do.

Lesson No. 3: You will not be tutored.

Bad news. Those people who helped you with all your schoolwork? They're gone for good. You're on your own now. In place of tutors, you will now have access to interns. But there is a slight difference between tutors and interns. Tutors knew all the answers. Interns are morons. Do not forget this, and you can go far -- or at least not be an accomplice to an office fire.

Lesson No. 4: You will be able to make money. And the NCAA can't do anything about it.

[Hold for applause.]

That's the good news. Now for the bad.

Remember that booster who once offered you a no-show part-time job at his car dealership for big money? The job offer still stands. Only it's now a show job, it's full-time and it's for small money. But, hey, in this economy ...

Lesson No. 5: You will always be an athlete.

No one can take that away from you. Be proud of it. Use it to your advantage. Remember those stupid interns I spoke of? They are also attractive. And they are in your age group. You can date them without everyone thinking you are creepy. Feel free to wow them with tales of your college-playing glory, even if you make everything up. Again: Interns are dumb. They will believe anything you say.

Same with your boss. Be sure to mention in job interviews that you were an NCAA athlete. Any boss worth his salt who cares about the success of the company softball team will hire you in a second, even over the valedictorian of Yale. Produce on the field and bring a trophy to the reception desk, and you will be able to slack off in the office. It's just like college, only now you'll be the star athlete who doesn't have to do the boring nerd work.

[Hold for applause.]

To the nearly 400,000 student-athletes who will go pro in something other than sports, I say: Congratulations! Just don't get too fat. No one will believe that you once played sports, and you will have pretty much wasted the last four years of your lives.

DJ Gallo is the founder of His first book, "The View from the Upper Deck," is available from only the finest bargain-book retailers. His next book project will be released soon. You can follow him on Twitter at @DJGalloESPN.

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