This is my first commencement speech, and depending on how it goes, it could very well be my last. In a sense, it is not dissimilar from the types of challenges you will face from time to time in your lives: They start with a chance - an opportunity comes your way - which is followed by a choice - you make a decision to take on the challenge.
Today I want to talk to you about the way I hope you will deal with the choices and challenges in your lives. 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. Simply put, I guess it has something to do with the number of consecutive games I played in my career. For breaking Lou Gehrig's record was full of chances presented to me and choices I made throughout my career.
Today you have reached an important point in your lives, and it could be a little scary because of the challenges that may come next. As you meet those challenges, I hope you will think about three ideas which have guided me along the path that my life has taken thus far, and which may take some of the apprehension out of the choices you make.
First, find a career that is your passion.
Second, persevere to be the best you can be as you perform your tasks.
And, third, strive to be a good person in all you do.
Finding your passion
When I say find your passion, I am asking you to think about career choices, and to let your heart play a role in making those choices. 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.
As I stand here today in front of you, your parents and your mentors, I want all to know that I, who have a daughter graduating from high school in a few weeks and a son who will be starting high school next year, am not much different than all of you. My goal is to guide them along a path of life that will bring them the highest level of success and satisfaction, and the words I share with you today, I share with them.
I think back on the great mentor in my life, my Dad, who in one of his more philosophical moments, said: “One of the main problems in society today is that too many people are working at jobs they absolutely hate.” He went on to tell us that “the secret to happiness is finding something you love and working at it each and every day.”
Contrary to popular belief, Dad never told my brother and me that we had to be 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. 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.
When I realized that baseball was my passion, I then knew I had to persevere and work hard to be the best I could be at it. Because I broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record that was thought to be unbreakable, I was viewed as somehow having the secret to perseverance. I was asked to give speeches and write books on perseverance as if there were some secret and complex formula to knowing how to persevere.
The real answer is somewhat simpler and found in 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. Although there may be missteps and setbacks along the way, being optimistic will encourage you to take the risks and persist in the pursuit of goals that help you build a life of satisfaction.
Simply put, perseverance will put you in the best possible positions to achieve what you desire.
Be a good person
So be the best you can be at the task you love - that's fulfilling your passion with perseverance. That puts you well along the road of life, which truly has no endings but rather reaches a series of points which are new beginnings. And each time you begin, remind yourself that in addition to the passion and perseverance which carries you to each beginning and the fulfillment of your goals, you should strive constantly to do the right thing - that is to be a good person.
Now you may say to yourselves, “Cal Ripkin is really getting a bit corny and elementary.” And I may not be expressing thoughts you hear from many tycoons and celebrities who grab the public eye.
Yet, I truly believe that your life is ultimately measured not be how many consecutives games your play, or how much wealth you achieve, or how many times you grab the headlines, but rather by the quality of your character which ultimately defines who you are as a person. How you respond to your chances and choices reflects this.
For example, there was a time when some baseball players thought that by using steroids they had the chance to achieve records, wealth and recognition that they might not otherwise attain. So they made the choice to use those performance enhancing drugs and hit the ball harder or throw it faster than they might otherwise have done. In the end, however, I suspect that almost everyone who made that decision now regrets it. And, at the end of the day, it's more important to weigh how you become successful than it is to be proclaimed successful.
On the walls of an office I frequently visit is a quote which succinctly embodies this view. It says: “True greatness is only launched by talent. It is ultimately shaped and guided by character.”
That thought applies equally to the choices made by business people, teachers, lawyers, doctors, first responders and many others as it does to the choices made by professional athletes.
You are at a place in your lives where you can set the course for doing right, as well as doing well, for yourselves. Just ask yourself questions like, “At what price do we strive to be successful? At what cost do we want to be liked?” Your lives will be shaped by the answers you give to these questions as you make the choices to respond to the chances presented to you.
I also want to be clear today that I have not lived a life free of mistakes, and neither will you. 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.
So, ladies and gentlemen, as you leave this fine University and move to the next stage in your life, know that life will present you with challenges and chances that will test you every day. 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.
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 and satisfaction, and the true happiness that I wish for all of you.