Dwyane Wade’s undergraduate Commencement address

Thank you! Thank you all.

So, I was working on this speech with my vocal coach, Mr. Arthur Joseph. Arthur and I had been working on this speech for a few days, and on Monday, we worked for two hours. In those two hours, we came to a good place at the beginning of the speech, but we hit a roadblock and decided to call it quits for the day.

It was about 5 p.m. when I walked Arthur out. Once I turned around, I saw my 14-year-old daughter Zaya walking down the hallway, and I grabbed Zaya and said, “Zaya, come hear my speech.  I am writing a Commencement address to give at Marquette on Sunday.” She turned to me and said, “Oh my God, you’re not like me at all. You’re not a procrastinator.” In that moment I thought to myself, “It’s Monday. My speech is due on Sunday. This is procrastination to me.”

Anyway, Zaya and I went outside and began a conversation and I posed some questions to her about putting herself in your seats and, if I was to come and speak to her graduating class, what would she want to hear from me on her special day? What is the message she would like to take away as she walks into a very exciting time in her life, a very nervous time as they move on.

We talked about what she would like to hear, and she began to help me formulate my ideas which are now at the heart of what I will be speaking about to you today: solitude, self-awareness and the journey. So, if my speech is not any good, blame Zaya.

Now, how did I get here?

I’m at a time in my life as a 40-year-old man when I’m starting to do more things by myself. So, in mid-April, I was on a golf course in Orange County, California, playing golf by myself. When I play golf alone, I play with my earbuds, because I’m not great at golf, and listening to a certain genre of music calms me. If we have any golfers out there, you get what I’m saying about needing to be calm. But, anyway, I’m on the fifth hole about to tee off when my phone rings. Now, my first thought was, “This better be an emergency.” You see, in my house we have a master calendar. Next to my name that day, it said “Golf all day” – which means, “Leave him alone!”

So I look down at my phone, and to my surprise, it said, “President Lovell, Marquette University.” I of course took the call, and President Lovell shared with me that he would like me to be the commencement speaker at your graduation today. He also shared that I would be presented with an honorary doctorate, and then he saved the best surprise for last. He told me that his daughter Anna is also graduating, and that my being here would make a special day that much more special.

Now, let’s go back 22 years, when many of you weren’t even born.

My college coach at Marquette was Coach Tom Crean. The very first call that I got once recruiting season opened before my senior year in high school was from Coach — the first person to bring a cap and gown into my house on a recruiting visit and tell me that he was not just recruiting me because of my basketball abilities, but also because he believed I wanted more for myself and my family. The first person to offer me a scholarship whether I passed the ACT or not was Coach. I later found out he actually didn’t even have permission to do so.

Once Coach showed that kind of confidence in me, I began thinking about myself and my future differently. I began to do what I always do when I want to accomplish something. I work harder. I took ACT prep classes during school, speed reading courses at night with the hope that I would be able to get through the test faster.

I waited for months for the test results. I was sitting in class one day when my name was called over the loudspeaker to come to the office. For several days I had been anticipating receiving my test scores back. My stomach was instantly filled with knots.  These test scores were going to determine if I could play basketball at Marquette the next season, or if I would have to choose another path.

So I left the classroom, and took the same walk that I had taken many times in my four years at Harold L. Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Illinois, but this one felt very different. I’m an 18-year-old kid who’s afraid of what those test scores are going to be, and what will they actually say about me. If I didn’t pass, I felt everyone would look at me as a failure. Was my “way out” being taken away from me? With each step, all I could think about were my fears.

I arrived at the office, was handed an envelope and opened it off to the side, and, not to my surprise, I didn’t pass. I immediately became frantic, nervous and scared, and my first thought was to call Coach. My voice was trembling on the phone when he picked up. Through tears I said, “Coach, I didn’t pass.” With a tremble in his voice he said, “Dwyane we will still proceed with our plan,” and told me that I will be attending Marquette University in the fall.

In a couple of minutes, I went through a roller coaster of emotions, from one of the loneliest, most terrifying moments of my life to one of the most exhilarating. Coach Crean recognized me as someone worthy and was giving me a chance to prove myself.  I now turned my attention to the fear of it all — the fear of the unknown. What would the next leg of my journey be like?

Who here has a fear of the unknown?  Raise your hand.

In these moments when I truly feel fear, I create space for solitude. The definition of solitude is “alone,” not loneliness as some may think, but alone in my thoughts. In solitude I find clarity. There is no judgment and it is where I get to know the real me. In solitude, I find understanding and create solutions. It is also where I visualize what I want for my life, and design the plan for achieving it.

In solitude, there is nothing that will get in the way of creating the life you want — except you! When I was nine years old, I visualized making it to the NBA. I visualized winning NBA championships. Later, I visualized the day my mom would be able to be the grandmother to her grandkids as she always wanted. I visualized the day that I’d be able to create a new bond with my dad, and build new memories. I visualized owning businesses. Who my wife was going to be, and what kind of parent I wanted to be. In solitude there are no barriers. A friend taught me two important lessons. He said, “Our two greatest fears are abandonment and claiming our greatness.”

We all look in the mirror every day. In that mirror we get to really see ourselves. We see our strengths and weaknesses, our imperfections. This is an opportunity to acknowledge ourselves, again, without judgement. This is self-awareness. As we become more self-aware, we achieve a better understanding of who we are. We discover the things that come easily to us, that others may find challenging. We discover our values, our character, what we consider to be right and wrong. We discover what drives us, what inspires and motivates us. We observe our habits and discern what we do instinctively, learn to enhance what is positive and discard what is negative. Through self-awareness, we are given the opportunity to design who we truly want and deserve to be.

A brief basketball story.

Back in the 2011-12 season with the Miami Heat I turned 30. I was playing with a 27-year-old LeBron James, one of the greatest talents the League has ever seen. We were coming off a championship loss to the Dallas Mavericks the previous season. After losing, there is a lot of soul-searching that goes on. I decided to take a deep look inside myself: My game, my age, my injuries. That self-awareness helped me recognize that I needed to step back from being “The Man.” If we were going to win more championships, we needed one definitive leader and, as obvious as that choice seems today, because LeBron will be entering his 100th season in the NBA, it was not so obvious then.

The decision I made was a team decision, and the most difficult professional decision I’d ever made. I also knew it was the correct one. We then went on to win championships two out of the next three seasons. I share this story because its success was only achieved through solitude and self-awareness.

Who here is chasing their dreams? Raise your hand.

What I’ve learned since retiring is it’s not the dream that we should chase, it’s the experiences on the journey to fulfilling our dreams. That’s the win!

Quoting my good friend, Kobe Bryant. He said, “Those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times when you stay up late and you work hard, those times when don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway, that is actually the dream.  That’s the dream.  It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

If you follow Kobe’s advice, you won’t only accomplish your dreams. It won’t simply be your dreams that come true. Something greater will!

Will your journey have some highlights? Yes. Will your journey have some lowlights? Yes. And if you continue to build on your discoveries and experiences, if you establish your moments of solitude, and allow yourself the space for self-awareness, you will arrive at a place where you can grow, not on the terms of what someone else has planned for you, but living life on your own terms.

Today we celebrate you! What you have accomplished, as we should. Tomorrow you will wake up to begin the next leg of your journey.  Your passion, repeat: your passion, lies in the journey ahead. To all of you, the graduating Class of 2022, congratulations!