One of the great things about this time of year is coaches and players being chosen to impart their wisdom at commencements around the country. I still remember James Franklin speaking at his alma mater a few years ago when he told graduates to "stay broke and chase your dreams".
This year, Wisconsin chose Russell Wilson to come back to Madison and speak at their graduation. During his only season on the team as a graduate transfer from NC State, Wilson helped Wisconsin take the country by storm, ultimately leading the Badgers to a win in the inaugural Big Ten Title game against Michigan State, before playing in the Rose Bowl against Oregon (a 38-45 loss).
During his speech, Wilson mixed in some really valuable advice about how to deal with life when it tells you "No" while also mixing in some humor.
One of those funnier moments was, "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."
On a more serious note, Wilson then added, "Here's something that I really have learned: You can't do it alone. You've got to surround yourself with good people."
Wilson also shared with graduates a story about when he dominated tee-ball as a youngster, only to be reminded by his father that "potential just means you haven't done it yet," before adding that "the moments that life tells you 'yes', aren't the moments that define you. The moments that really matter are the ones where life tells you 'no'."
One of the stories that had everyone talking over the weekend was a meeting that a young Russell Wilson had with Tom O'Brien, who was the head coach at NC State at the time. Wilson was battling with four other guys for the starting quarterback job, and one day O'Brien pulled him in the office and told Wilson (note that he didn't ask him) that he had decided to move Wilson to safety. After reflecting on it for a few days, Wilson went into O'Brien's office with a big chest one morning and told him "Coach, I'm going to be your starting quarterback. I'm going to be a first-team Freshman All American. I'm going to be first team All-ACC. I'm going to play in the National Football League for a long, 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?"
Three days later, O'Brien named Wilson the starter heading into the season. Wilson used that lesson to share this message with the graduates: "When life tells you no, ask yourself honestly, 'What am I capable of?' Once you know the answer, don't be afraid to let everyone else know it too."
A few years later, Wilson called to tell O'Brien that he wanted to come back for his Senior season while on the road playing in the minor leagues for baseball, and O'Brien told him, "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." That conversation, which was capped by O'Brien saying "you'll never see the field if you come back," is what led Wilson to pursue his dream of becoming an NFL quarterback with a year at Wisconsin.
"In the end, what started off as the biggest no of my career, became the biggest yes of my career."
In the video below, Wilson shares a number of other lessons he's learned early on during his life, including a touching story about losing his father, what he meant to him, and how one year at Wisconsin changed his outlook on life.
He's only 27, and shares some really great stuff for young people, and coaches.