To read the text of Cal Ripken Jr.’s address, please click here.
7 p.m., May 31, 2008--As a baseball player, Cal Ripken Jr. earned many honors, from American League Rookie of the Year in 1982 to membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. On Saturday, May 31, Ripken reached yet another milestone as he addressed members of the University of Delaware's Class of 2008 during Commencement exercises held before an enthusiastic crowd of more than 24,000 at Delaware Stadium.
Ripken, the former Baltimore Orioles shortstop and third baseman who broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played and raised the mark to 2,632 before voluntarily ending the streak in 1998, was introduced by UD Provost Dan Rich, who lauded Ripken's impact as one that extends far beyond the baseball diamond.
“He is admired for his strength, character, hard work, integrity and service,” Rich said. “This is his first University commencement address, and we are proud to be part of what may become the start of a new Cal Ripken Jr. record that will extend well into the future.”
Following a warm round of applause, Ripken began his talk by noting lightheartedly that, “depending on how it goes, it could very well be my last.”
Challenges, Ripken said, are something that everybody has to deal with, something that usually begins with a chance, an opportunity, and is followed by a choice, a decision to take on the challenge.
“You might wonder how a guy who played baseball and didn't get to college qualifies to speak to you, and perhaps I do, as well,” Ripken said. “Simply put, I guess it has something to do with the number of consecutive games I played in my career. For breaking Lou Gerhig's record was full of chances presented to me, and choices I made throughout my career.”
The Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer asked members of the Class of 2008 to consider three ideas to help meet the challenges they may face in their lives. These ideas, Ripken said, include:
- Find a career that is your passion;
- Persevere to be the best you can be as you perform your tasks; and
- Strive to be a good person in all that you do.
“When I say find your passion, I'm asking you to think about career choices and to let your heart play a role in making those choices,” Ripken said. “By saying this, I mean give more thought to what you really want to do than to what you will be paid or what acclaim you will receive.”
“I am not that much different than all of you,” Ripken said. “My goal is to guide them along a path of life that will bring them the highest level of success and satisfaction. The words I share with you today, I share with them.”
Ripken noted that he received similar advice from his father and mentor, the late Cal Ripken Sr., who said that a main problem in society is that many people work at jobs they hate, while the “secret to happiness is finding something you love and working at it each and every day.”
Contrary to popular belief, Ripken said that his father never told his sons that they had to become baseball players.
“Rather, he left it to us to find our own way to pursue our own passions and to make the most out of the opportunity that would arise,” Ripken said. “It was my dad who reminded us that following your heart and doing what you want to do is far more important than chasing fame and fortune.”
Perseverance, Ripken said, is not the result of following some complex, secret formula, but mainly accompanies an optimistic view of life.
“Once you believe goals can be achieved, then that belief will fuel the perseverance it takes to do your job right,” Ripken said. “Simply put, perseverance will put you in the best possible position to achieve what you desire.”
The drive to fulfill one's passion and to persevere can be carried to the highest level, where one “should strive constantly to do the right thing--that is to be a good person,” Ripken said.
The pursuit of goals without ethical guidelines can lead people to make the wrong decisions, such as the athletes who chose to use performance-enhancing drugs to break baseball records and gain wealth and fame at the expense of character, Ripken said.
Ripken said that the individual must ask what the true price is for success, and that one's life will be shaped by how such questions are answered.
“I also want to make it clear today that I have not lived a life free of mistakes, and neither will you,” Ripken said. "But if you learn from those mistakes, and set yourselves back on the course of doing things the right way with the goal of being a good person, then the cumulative impact of the choices you make will be that you live your life as a good person.”
Ripken closed his remarks by urging the newest UD graduates to keep in mind the ideas of having passion for one's work, perseverance and being a good person as guidelines to meeting the challenges and chances that comprise a life experience.
“Meet those challenges with perseverance and the hard work that goes along with it, and be guided by the character of the good person you can be,” Ripken said. "If you do, someday you will look back on the journey you have taken from this day as a life that has led you to fulfillment, satisfaction and the true happiness that I wish for all of you.”
Ripken's own worries about making a successful speech must have been allayed by the standing ovation he received at the conclusion of his speech, an ovation led by the newest members of the global community of UD alumni.
Ripken also joined UD President Patrick Harker in a press conference held in the Bob Carpenter Center after the Commencement exercises.
Harker welcomes grads and guests
“I would like to take a moment to personally thank President Roselle, who had the pleasure to welcome most of you to campus,” Harker said. “He has passed on to us such a strong and vibrant institution. I am grateful to him for his service and leadership.”
Harker, who also taught a class this semester, gave students an informal history lesson about the beginnings of the University and the beautiful, tree-lined setting on which is located.
“In 1915, there was no University of Delaware. The campus that we see here today did not exist. What was then called Delaware College had just 225 students,” Harker said. “But, an inspired alumnus, Hugh Rodney Sharp, working with his brother-in-law Pierre S. du Pont, purchased the land and laid out what we now know as The Green.”
The reach of the University, Harker noted, has extended from the elm trees planted by students in 1917, to partnership agreements with other institutions of higher education around the country and around the world.
“We live in the age of the Butterfly Effect--this is the idea from chaos theory, that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in China can set off a tornado on the other side of the world,” Harker said. “We just started an exchange program with the Southwest University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. So, when the tragic earthquake struck there recently, we felt it here in Newark. The world is bound together ever more tightly, and we all have a responsibility for our shrinking planet.”
In noting that more than 40 percent of UD graduates have participated in one or more study abroad programs, Harker said that both the Class of 2008 and the University are embarking on a journey that will take both to new levels of success and recognition.
“As you know, earlier this month we announced our strategic plan, our Path to Prominence",” Harker said. “I think we can share with you today the excitement of starting on a new path.”
Harker also thanked the Class of 2008 for its $60,000 Senior Class Gift, the sponsoring of a Carbon Footprint Project that will identify the amount of emissions created at UD and help devise strategies to reduce greenhouse gases.
Recalling the words of Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher who said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Harker encouraged the graduates to take the next step on their journey into the world, and to remember the power they have to bring about positive change.
“Remember the impact of small initiatives and small steps. Remember the small elms planted by those students in 1917, and the university planted here, which has grown into one of the world's great universities,” Harker said. “In your time here, you have become a part of this tradition, and now this is your University. Congratulations and best wishes on the path ahead. Good luck and godspeed.”
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, Mark Campbell, Greg Drew, Duane Perry and Kevin Quinlan