Thank you for that gracious introduction. First, I wish to recognize the Rev. Peter Donohue, the University President, trustees, honored guests, also distinguished members of the faculty, graduates, family members, friends, ladies and gentlemen.
Today is a new beginning, a “commencement”, a moment of celebration. We celebrate you. We also celebrate and express appreciation for the loving families, friends and professors who have supported you. Congratulations to the Class of 2016. Over the course of the past few years, as students you have experienced triumphs and defeats, hopes and fears, laughter and tears, all in your search for meaning and purpose. And today, you are richer from it. You stand victorious. Congratulations. Today is your day.
To be your commencement speaker is a unique privilege. To be here with such honorable people is a special moment in my life. As an example I have come home and am emotionally engaged with my Villanova Family.
Frankly, this is the most important speech I’ve ever made.
Graduates please join with me in thanking Villanova for its tireless commitment to “Academic Excellence”. From the very beginning, Villanova has gone into battle with “Truth” as its only weapon. “Integrity” as its only shield and “Conscience” as its only guide. Hoping to touch souls and teach minds.
Villanova you inspired each of us, not only to per- form better, but to be better. You will find as I have during the past 50 plus years, “Nova” will always be a place “WE CALL HOME”. Thank you, Nova!
I’d be remiss if I failed to make mention of our “NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP BASKETBALL TEAM”. Its sterling achievements as well as its servant-leader/coach, Jay Wright. A fire has been ignited. Its been electrifying. Its been magnetic. Its a legacy that will never be forgotten. Frankly, this is a defining mile- stone that will change the trajectory of the lives of the Villanova coaches and athletes forever. Let me hasten to remind ourselves that this is just another example of Villanova’s “Embodiment of Excellence”.
I wish to speak to you today from the heart. With compassion from my heart to your heart, much like the old black country preacher. Who stood before the congregation and prayed, “Dear God!! Please Help me deliver a message today that will touch the hearts of those gathered here, and let it come out in their lives.
The Scene — Nova
Join me on a mystical journey. September 18, 1956. The scene locates us at the busy intersection Lancaster Pike and Ithan Ave.(Road). The gateway to Villanova University campus. Just as we arrived at this location a Greyhound bus comes to a sudden stop. Its doors open departing a 6’4 young black man that answered to the name of George Ravel- ing. Immediately we notice him carrying a suitcase and a large Army duffle bag. The luggage contained your traditional men’s apparel. But he was also carrying his dreams, goals and hopes as well as fears, insecurities, uncertainties.
I was eager and anxious to start the next day as I settled in at Austin Hall. September 19th would be the beginning of a journey filled with transformation and self-discovery (coat and tie 3626 students/11 blacks).
The next 4 years passed in rapid secession. Reflecting back on the core ingredients of an educational setting: professors, students, books, classes, studying and examinations, I sincerely sum up this invaluable experience in two words: SKILL DEVELOPMENT.
Through the consistent engagement of critical and analytical thinking, problem solving, listening to my peers and relationship building, I discovered the hidden treasures within me and began to focus more intently on the meaning of life. Nova taught me to look beyond what is, into what can be; And further, into what should be. Nova placed me on a path to leverage my true potential to live my story as a liberated individual. So today, I feel compelled to make the following “Statement of Fact,” the inconvenient truth is, Villanova SAVED my life…
Please allow me to share with you a “Statement of Fact”, The inconvenient truth is, Villanova changed my life. As well as SAVED my life. My professors and coaches cast their “Transformative Light” on me, they rescued me from a life of uncertainty and mediocrity. In the process, gave my life, New Meaning and Definition. Villanova took me from where I was, to where I NEEDED to be. It clothed me with Knowledge, Wisdom, Character, Commitment, and Strategies. And then, wrapped me with Confidence, Persistence, Self-Awareness, Curiosity, and Passion. Finally sent me off in pursuit of Excellence. For some of you, Villanova will have a similar application. You just don’t know it yet.
Over the course of my 78 years, I have stuffed my suitcase of life experiences with valuable lessons learned. I’d like to share five that I believe will fuel your personal success.
1. Make every day your masterpiece
Let what you do be an expression of who you are. Each day you possess 86,400 seconds of opportunities to maximize your full potential and skills. Face every precious moment with your best contributions to grow, learn, and prosper. Ultimately recognizing that “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
2. Be accountable to yourself
Hold yourself to only one standard, the very best version of yourself. Start by being accountable to yourself. The toughest battle a person has to fight, is to live in a world, where every single day, some- one is trying to make you be someone you don’t want to be. Never second guess yourself. If you work toward being normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. As Oscar Wilde said “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
3. Construct a personal development plan
We no longer live in a nation where our work is done by the BODY, our daily work is now performed, by the MIND. Investing in your self development is the best investment you will ever make. Design the life you wish to live, life is always under construction. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. In todays work place its what you know, not who you know.
4. Surround yourself with as many extraordinary people as possible.
Follow the footprints of successful people. Re- search confirms that the #1 way to make strong improvements in your life is to associate with people who you aspire to be. These individuals will lift you up, challenge you, help you reach your outer limits. If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.
5. Create a lasting legacy for yourself
How do you want to be remembered? Creating a reputation that will follow you through your life is important. Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. Make your life an awesome story of LOVE, COURAGE, and PERSEVERANCE. Just imagine if tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you like to be remembered? Leave behind shoes no person can fill.
Now I’m certain you can see why I wanted to share these life lessons with you.
In conclusion, I leave you with this message: As you travel the highways and byways of life, in pursuit of excellence, there will inevitably be moments of despair, uncertainty, negativity and disappointment. When these bumps in the road occur, perhaps this meaningful verse will comfort you.
If you cant be a pine on the top of a hill
be a scrub in the valley
but be the best little scrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway
just be a trail.
If you can’t be the sun
be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or fail
Be the best of whatever you are.
Thank you for providing me with this most humbling experience. “Go Nova”.
WE LOVE YOU, ALWAYS.