At this time of the year, we celebrate our students and their accomplishments. High school seniors are on the cusp of a new educational journey in college and college graduates head off to the next chapter of their lives. Below is the text of a speech I delivered earlier this week at the 2018 Penn Student-Athlete Banquet, hosted at the Penn Palestra. While specifically directed towards Penn student-athletes, the sentiments here are broadly applicable to any student heading off into an exciting new chapter of their lives. We salute all graduates — high school and college — celebrating that milestone this spring.
Student-Athletes of the University of Pennsylvania: I’m humbled to have this opportunity to be able to share this moment with you—thank you Dr. Calhoun for your kind invitation. The values and goals you have set for this department define what it means to be a champion.
Student-Athletes of Pennsylvania: You are the most visible representation of this university in the classroom, up and down Locust Walk and in your intercollegiate competitions.
You are the ones who come back from early morning workouts when others are just waking up; you are the ones who head back to practice after class; you are the ones who wear the Red and Blue against our Ivy peers; you are the ones who earn varsity sweaters, blankets and championship gear. You, regardless of the score, make us all proud!
Student-Athletes of Pennsylvania: Remember that many people have your back: with the strongest supporting cast of coaches, trainers, alumni, the Penn band, cheer squads and dance teams. Your family and friends who have always been there for you–never feel that you have to carry all the weight on your own shoulders.
After my high school’s sectional football loss in a small town upstate New York, I thought my football days were over. While some of my teammates were going off to continue as collegiate athletes, there didn’t seem to be a place for a 155-pound offensive lineman.
Thanks to a dedicated high school coach who never went to college himself, coach always looked after his players and urged us on to get a college degree. When he received a letter from Coach Wagner for Penn’s lightweight football team, coach pulled me to the side and said, ‘Hey, Furda you’re pretty smart, fill out this application’.
Student-Athletes of Pennsylvania: Thank your coaches and mentors.
Coach Wags. Thank you. I truly would not be here today if it wasn’t for you. I would never trade the opportunity to play football for four more years and have the friendships with my teammates to this day. You believed in me, Coach Wags, and I hope my four years on the team and serving as a captain demonstrated part of my gratitude.
Student-Athletes of Pennsylvania: Be true to yourself, be supportive and lean on your teammates.
Honestly, I didn’t feel like I ‘fit in’ at Penn. I literally sat alone in front of Weightman Hall during NSO questioning my place here. It was during my work-study hours in the athletic department that I was surrounded by caring adults. It was on the practice fields, in the weight-room and on long away games that a group of individuals became a team. To this day on campus, I am most comfortable and thrilled when I am surrounded by our dedicated coaches, staff and all of you as Penn student-athletes—thank you for always making me feel welcome, and I hope you feel the support of those around you.
Student-Athletes of Pennsylvania: Like the Philadelphia 76ers, “Trust the Process” and Welcome to (and be in) the Moment because there will come a day for a final game, a final play, a final second, a final score. This is your opportunity, it’s the moment to champion all that matters to you!
Seniors, as you close out your Penn careers and make a transition into a new field of competition, recognize that your qualities as a Penn student-athlete will not only contribute to your success in life but, more importantly, help to define what success looks like to you. People couldn’t understand when I first started a career in college admissions because that was not a clearly defined career path. Of course I had my doubts and I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but I was able to take a chance on myself and I ask you to give yourself the same break, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and believe in yourself. As athletes you are trained to have a wide field of vision. You see openings that others can’t imagine. Use this to your distinct advantage.
Student-Athletes of Pennsylvania: As the parent of two young children and as your dean of admissions, I want to stress the need to play the long game. There aren’t any shortcuts. You know what to do. You have been doing this your whole life. Practice, repetitions, film, suit-up, compete. Learn from what went right and what went wrong. Then get back out there and leave it all on the field, time after time.
Student-Athletes of the University of Pennsylvania: When the time comes, like the coaches, mentors, players and alumni before you, take care of the next generation of young student-athletes. They, like you, will proudly represent the Red and the Blue for the rest of their lives!
Thank you for the honor of sharing this evening with you!