Commencement? Give me a coach instead

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Like many of you, I have seen the footage of Notre Dame students and parents getting up and walking out on Vice President Mike Pence as he began what I am sure was one of the ten greatest speeches ever, although, do not hold me to that claim because like them, I did not listen to a word he said. No, all I saw was students getting up and leaving.

There are multiple ways of spinning this; however, it basically comes down to political views. This was either another liberal snowflake attempt to shut down the free speech of conservatives, or this was the use of free speech to protest the words and actions of a man disliked by many grads. More than anything, it accomplished little other than allowing the participating grads to meet up with mom, dad, and siblings at a local Applebee’s before the crowds hit, so in that sense, it was a smart move more than a bold statement.

Vice President Michael R. Spence (YouTube)

I went to college in a different era so when I admit it did little to prepare me for the outside world, it was by the 1980’s standards and not today’s. That said, I am not so sure our standards have increased all that much. What I do remember from my commencement day was it was more for my parents, who made the three-hour drive to sit inside a stuffy gym to listen to a college Dean or some other person tell us about what we had in store. I remember thinking it was the only time anyone from the world of academia thought to impart any life lessons on me while in college. It seemed a bit late in coming.

Back in the day, it was considered the job of people called parents to impart life lessons, instill values, and ready you for life in the real world. College was not the only path to a successful life nor did it ensure you success. We were expected to go out and earn it and not bitch about how unfair it is to be a college grad and not be guaranteed at least a middle class lifestyle. Oh, there was a middle class back then, something that seems to have disappeared along with CD players.

By the time most people are 16, they have had their fill of wisdom from mom and dad and really do not want to hear any more from them anymore. Most are counting the days until they turn 18 so they can tell their folks to screw themselves before moving out just so they can then count the days until they turn 21 and can legally get drunk on drinks with fancy names. Mine was called beer.

Today, everything has to have a fancy name, pretty color, unique sound, or free app if we want our future consumers to suck it up. When you have been sold the idea there is no hope for our future, a green drink in a modern urban atmosphere with friends wearing pants that have been stained to look like they are dirty is the next best thing to a new smart phone.

If you have read to this point, by now you realize this column is like today’s graduates in that it has no idea where it is going. It’s just here, inside the Internet, in its own little corner, wondering if it is going to be liked by enough people so I will feel good about myself.

Students walking out of school to protest this column (YouTube)

This is what we have become, a nation of electronic nomads wandering an ever changing desert with just a sun and star app as our compass. The more we wander the closer we get to nowhere, which is why we blame the rest of the world for our plight.

If I was asked to speak to college grads, my advice to them would be if they decide to raise children, get them involved in something competitive beyond the world of academics. Let them learn early on others do not see them as their parents do. Some are not nearly as talented as mom or dad think. You may have had your head filled by parents saying you are a future Hall of Fame athlete, Oscar winning actress, or earth shattering talented singer, dancer, rapper, or whatever else they have sold you to believe.

I learned more life lessons from the coaches I began playing for as a second grader in Little League while getting to play on a third/fourth grade team. I learned age does not matter as much as talent and if I worked hard enough, I could be the starting second baseman while Johnny Nosepicker, a full two grades ahead of me in school, sat on the bench and whined about how unfair it was he was watching me play the position he felt entitled to.

My freshman football coach taught me it is better to volunteer to play on the offensive line even if you only weigh a buck forty than to watch someone else because the guy who volunteers can show his coach what he is made of and just might get to play defensive back like he hoped to.

Once I played defensive back, I learned I had to toughen up and “stick” anyone who goes up to catch a pass or he’d find someone else who could do the job he was trusting me to do. I then learned life is not fair and when a broken thumb sidelines you for a month, you don’t always have a job waiting for you so prepare yourself to go back out there and earn a new one.

Nashville Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette resisted the attempts by the media to single out any one player for winning a game or the Western Conference Final. It took the entire team, right down to the coaches and support staff. (Claudia Gestro)

Every coach I played for also taught me you answer to more than your coach. There are colleagues you work with and answer to called teammates who are relying on you to do your job, sacrifice for the good of the team’s goals, and to suck it up and carry on or get out of the way and let someone else take over if you can’t. We never won or lost because of me, rather, we won and lost as a group that celebrated our victories with each other and stood united in defeat.

When my soccer days came to a crashing end ten minutes into my senior year, I was crushed knowing I was not going to be able to anchor the back line as I had trained for. I also learned I was still needed. Instead of walking away from the pitch and saying goodbye to my coach and teammates, I soon learned I was of value in a new way. I began working with our lone goalkeeper, overseeing his drills. As my ankle began to mend enough to work it a little, I did the drills with him.

As the season progressed, I served as a back up keeper and suddenly the first team had more than the water boy to try and score on when they scrimmaged the second team. By season’s end, I was told I was starting the final game of the season when our normal keeper was unable to play. We won, not because of me, but because my coach and teammates impressed on me not to walk away.

Anyone can get up and walk out when they don’t like someone or something, but only a few can swallow their pride, grind on through physical, mental, or emotional discomfort, and do the job they were entrusted with. These are lessons my parents reminded me of, but I shut them out as a teen, that were still driven in me by the many fine men who served as a head or assistant coach for the many sports I played.

As an adult, I also learned these are the same lessons driven into my kids who were not into sports, but who found themselves involved in theatre, choir, and band. The lessons their “coaches” drove home are what helped each of my three kids decide their path in life.

Parents who are their kids best friends end up being their worst problem because they are too quick to enable the negative behaviors that come with a sense of entitlement. Support your kid by supporting their “coaches” and it will pay off in the long run.

Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton had the custom of putting in the players at the end of games who were playing the game right — playing as a team.
(Claudia Gestro)

I am not passing judgment on the Notre Dame grads that walked out on Vice President Pence. I don’t know enough about them to do so. What I do know is it would not have killed them to sit there and listen to a man they do not like give a speech and see if there was any common ground they shared with the guy.

Instead, while holding to their principles, they only added to the idea that we are better off to never listen to someone or something we assume is a certain way. If I took this approach to music, I’d still be listening to my older brother’s Bread collection rather than blowing out what’s left of my hearing to the music I was exposed to and learned to like from many of my teammates in life.

Finally, if colleges insist on trying to one up one another with who they bring in to speak to grads, they are missing the boat and do not know nearly as much as their degrees would indicate. If after four years all a college can do is teach the future to get up and walk out when they do not like someone, perhaps they should have encouraged students do the same when forced to take courses that have nothing to do with life in the real world.

Top photo: Screen shot of students walking out on Vice President Pence’s Commencement Speech