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May 20, 2001
ESPN anchor urges graduates to celebrate diversity, recognize power of communication
Following is the prepared remarks for delivery by ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor Stuart Scott in a commencement speech given today (May 20) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillís Kenan Stadium before a crowd of 32,000.
Scott graduated from UNC in 1987 with a bachelor of arts degree in speech communications and radio, television and motion pictures.
Among the graduates attending todayís ceremony were Vince Carter, former Tar Heel basketball standout and current NBA standout with the Toronto Raptors. Carter has earned his bachelor of arts degree in Afro-American studies after recently completing his coursework. Carter flew with Raptors officials and family members on the team plane Saturday to Chapel Hill. He donned the traditional Carolina blue academic regalia, marched in with his fellow undergraduates and attended part of the ceremony before traveling to Philadelphia for todayís game 7 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals with the Philadelphia 76ers.
May commencement is held for students completing degree work this spring. As of May 15, the University Registrar had identified 5,227 May degree candidates: 2,927 bachelorís, 1,335 masterís, 384 doctoral, 571 professional and 10 certificates. Those numbers are expected to drop as officials verify who has met academic requirements after exams. News Services will provide updates as they are available but an exact number of May graduates will not be available today.
This yearís honorary degree recipients were: Dr. David Satcher, 16th Surgeon General of the United States; Dr. Dennis Gillings, chairman of Quintiles Transnational Corp. (and former biostatistics professor at UNC); Gladys Hall Coates, researcher and writer of UNC history; Tom Wicker, UNC journalism graduate who retired in 1991 after a 30-year career with The New York Times; and Dr. Billy Taylor, Greenville native, and jazz composer, educator, writer, scholar and performer.
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Contacts: Deb Saine, (919) 216-4653; Karen Moon, 218-3467 or 216-9256 or Mike McFarland, 614-5436 or 216-2584.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Commencement Address
Stuart Scott, ESPN "SportsCenter" Anchor
May 20, 2001
Thank you. First word that comes to mind is "wow." I think the second is "surreal." I sat where you sit 14 years ago and listened to "then" baseball commissioner Peter Ueberoth. I donít remember what he said Ė and it wasnít because he was boring. He wasnít. It was probably because here I was about to graduate. I was scared, excited, hot, confused and jobless. I was also winded because my Mu Zeta Chapter of "A-Phi-A" frat brothers and I had just done an impromptu step show midfield here in Kenan Stadium.
I say all that to say 14 years wasnít that long ago. I remember. Itís hot. Youíve been up most of the night before and days before gettiní your party on. The last thing you want is someone whoís gonna take 45 minutes up here telling you "go forth and prosper." So I wonít say that. In fact, I donít really want to tell you "what to do" so much as simply give you some things to think about.
I am blessed to have gone to school here for four years. You are blessed for the same reason. You wonít realize the depth of it until later in life, which is natural. There is something about this campus Ė the tradition here, the social life, the athletics, the academics, the pride of being a Tar Heel. You know how the folks who reside eight miles down 15-501 wearing the wrong blue love to playa hate on UNC? Jealousy is an ugly emotion, isnít it?
Speaking of Duke, did you all hear the news? Dukeís Shane Battier has received special permission from the NCAA to return to school and play college basketball for as long as he wants. Itís called ambassador status. Thatís good, Ďcause Duke players donít do very well in the NBA. Theyíre also gonna let Shane call his own fouls in college basketball. Says one NCAA official, "The refs do their best to help Shane, but as anyone could tell from the February 1st game with North Carolina, theyíre occasionally going to inhibit his game. So since Shane knows the game better than anyone, we feel itís best to let him be a Ďplayer-ref.í "
Anyway, back to reality and us. Itís cool how Tar Heel alums realize the uniqueness of a shared bond. In my profession, I run into a lot of Carolina alums basically Ďcause we dominate rosters of NBA, NFL, MLB and soccer. And all the alums always acknowledge it: "Yo, what up, Tar Heel." Well, all of them except Rasheed Wallace. I said, "What up, Tar Heel" to him, and he just stared at me. So I gave him two quick technical fouls and threw him out of the game.
ĎSheed is different, and thatís OK. Itís one of the most important lessons you learn here at UNC. Different is cool Ė always has been here Ė itís the beauty of diversity. And youíve probably had more diversity here than you will as you move on. I know all of you want to do more than "get a job." I know you want to "make a difference." Keep this in mind as you do that. Remember the different walks of life youíve seen here on campus, all colors, all races, all religions, all sexual make-ups, athletes, scholars, hippies, frat boys, sorority girls. I hope youíve accepted whatever is different from you as simply what it is Ė just different.
We all know the "majority" in this world decides "who" is the "other." Discrimination wears a lot more masks than just "white" and "black." Thereís age. Most discrimination cases are age-related. Thereís discrimination because of physical abilities. "Aw, dog. He canít play no ball." Because of "mental" abilities. "Iím magna cum lauda." Uh well, "I graduated Ďthank you lawdyí. "
All those levels, and we make meaning from them. When you put those differences up on a wall, some you can see, others you canít. Itís like a cube. You can see some of the sides. Others have more depth. Some, you can see parts of. Others, you canít see at all. People making a difference need to be aware of that paradigm. Also be aware of stereotypical tendencies. We value height. Sometimes we equate it with influence. Not always true. Making a difference means taking prejudices we have, understand them, then figuring out how to check myself.
Say I had a 3.8 GPA Ė I didnít but if I did. If I donít know how to talk to people, how to reach across the sphere and connect, my GPA, itís just for GP.
Given the way the world is changing, you absolutely cannot depend on stereotypes. Do that and you might lose money. Lose a customer. Lose constituents. Lose the faith of a child. Or worse: Have a child lose faith in you. Every time you speak, youíre making someone elseís reality. Especially in relationships. Your words have power. Remember this, and this is important. When you get a girlfriend and/or a fiancť and/or a wife. Know this: We communicate differently. And guys, I know youíre going to hate it because youíre going to think, "I donít get her," "She doesnít make sense," and youíre gonna try and talk to her like you talk to your boys. And when she doesnít understand you, youíre gonna complain. You are in a relationship with a woman. Youíre not in a relationship with a man who looks like a woman. Do you want to be right, or do you want to get your point across? Do you want to be right, or do you really want to communicate? Ladies, Iím talking to you, too. If youíre talking to your boss or colleague or neighbor or child or spouse or potential spouse, use language that they understand. Donít force them to understand you. Right now, my wife is probably thinking, "Who is that man up there speaking" Ė Iím not good at it myself.
There is power in communication. Donít be afraid to use it. Thereís power of communicating to a diverse group of people or diverse groups. Donít be afraid to use it. Whether youíre reaching out to five kids at a summer camp or whether youíre addressing Congress. Thereís also power in humility. One of the toughest things to do is saying, "Iím sorry." Either we donít say it or we say, "Iím sorry, but Ö ." "But" takes the authority out of a true apology. If you mess up, look whoever in the eye and say, "Iím sorry." Thereís nothing else, really, they can say. You own the strength in that.
Thinking like that and actually doing it. Two different things. To learn how to gain inner strength, you have to first have enlightenment. How do you maintain that?? Several ways. Keep friends who keep you honest about what youíre going to do when you say youíre going to do it. Just having friends who will always agree with you can be divisive. Keep yourself grounded about reality and not just your own reality. You might think you look fine in that Spandex dress or those flat-fronted polyester pants. But, uh, you might want to run it across one of your more truthful friends before you go to the club.
If youíre going to make a difference, if youíre going to grow, be honest with yourself Ė about yourself. And thatís hard. Come out of your comfort zone, which means talking to people you might not normally talk to. Someone new in your office or neighborhood. Talk with someone who intimidates you just by looking at them. Somebody youíve got nothing in common with. Being honest with yourself also means self-reflection. Whether itís chilliní out with that Jill Scott CD, reading, keeping a journal, praying or just being in silence. Itís funny. We often equate being alone with being lonely. Itís not even close to being the same. Some of the times Iíve been loneliest is when thereís a ton of people around.
When I first heard about the opposition to my speaking here, I was in my office with about four people. Talk about lonely. It was weird because I wasnít angry or even hurt. I felt alone because I felt like, "Here we go again Ė I gotta prove something, prove that Iím a journalist and not just an entertainer." Then I realized something that didnít hit me. Fourteen years ago, when a TV news director saw my resume tape and told me, "You suck. Youíll never make it in this business" Ė and, yes, those were the words he used Ė back then I felt I had to prove something to him. Which is in part what fueled my drive, what continued to fuel it every time some magazine or newspaper critic slammed me. Because he or she didnít understand me, didnít know what I was talking about when I said, "Playa hatiní." What continued to fuel it when one of my colleagues gave me a hard time about making an Alpha Phi Alpha-Omega Psi Phi reference, saying I should have used an "Animal House" reference if I was going to talk about fraternities. I felt like, I gotta stand up on top of a mountain and shout "Hey. Your view of reality, your world, is not Ďtheí world. Diversity means understanding. How you were raised, where you were raised, what shapes you is only a small slice of the pie. You donít have to understand or like every slice. You just have to accept there are more slices than youíve known."
Somewhere down the line, I realized I never have to prove anything to anyone but myself. And Iím secure in the knowledge that I do that every day. So, about 10 minutes after I heard about the opposition to my speaking here, about the quote, "Is this entertainment or commencement?" didnít bother anymore. I canít prove to anyone I am deserving of this honor. Iíll just get up there. Give them who I am and if thatís good enough, fine. If not, I still got my two little girls to go home to. The thing is, one of the professors who came out, publicly, against me speaking. We ended up talking, and she explained it wasnít a personal thing. It was just some issues with the university and the athletic department. And she really was looking forward to me coming. It all works out. For the record, I also agree with one Raleigh radio DJ. He said, "Iíd rather go hear Stuart than some politician. Now if itís J-Lo, Iíd rather go see J-Lo." Dog, Iím witcha.
When you get to be 35 years old, you start appreciating things you woulda thought were silly or "soft" in college. And I might have my "macho-testosterone" card taken away from me for this, but I ran across some things that a guy named Paul Harvey suggested. Sort of like lessons for life. He said, "Learn humility by being humiliated," "Learn honesty by being cheated," "Get a black eye fighting for something you believe in," "See puppies being born" and "See your old dog put to sleep." Itís all about perspective and appreciating your own perspective.
Hereís something else I believe in, and it comes with being a parent. Teach your kids how to pray. Teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. Teach them not to talk to strangers. And then, you pray. You wonít get it perfect. But you will get it.
The best thing about diversity, thinking about it, trying to learn from it, trying to grow from it, understanding how so many different people come together to create this world that you are about to walk head first into. You will make a difference, not in that "Hallmark card" way of making a difference but in the real way. With your kids or with somebody elseís kids. Some clichťs are true. Just as your parents and uncles and aunts raised you to shape the world, and you are about to, you will help raise the next generation to take over where you left off. For those of you who donít know, by far (and there is no close second), the best thing about life are your kids. And their honesty. Somewhere along the way, people lose their greatest gift as they get older. As I said before, the ability to be honest with yourself, and by extension, others.
Two stories about my 6-year-old, then Iíll get outta your hair. My wife and I were at a restaurant with an old couple across from us. And you know how old people like seeing the family unit. So the lady comes up and says, "You have such a nice family and such beautiful little girls." I said to my "then" 5-year-old, "Taelor, what do you say?" And Taelor is staring at her husband, whoís probably 80, with some red discolorating his head. And she turns to the lady and says matter-of-factly, "You might want to take him to the doctor to see what that mark is on his head." My wife was mortified. I was doubled over in laughter. Love the honesty.
She even got me. I was working out of town on her fifth birthday. So I called that morning, and I was talking to her on the phone, feeling real emotional. She said, "Daddy, Iím eating breakfast. Can I talk to you later?" And I said, "Taelor, just give me a minute. I just want you to know that you and your sister, Sydni, are the most precious gifts God has ever given to me. I love you more than anything." Iím getting all choked up, and she interrupts me and says, "Daddy." Iím thinking, sheís gonna say her usual: "I love you, too." Nope. She says, "Daddy, has it been a minute yet???"
I said yes. So before you ask me the same question Ė "Has it been a minute?" Ė Iíll close. But before I do, second best thing other than kids and family: friends. Unconditional friends. Someone once said of "friendship" Ö a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it to you when youíve forgotten the words. Someone else once said "Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you donít say." Love your friends. Understand the power in your words. Be aware, and embrace the worldís diversity. Make a difference.
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