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Jim McDermottMay 24, 2022
Dwyane Wade speaks to the 2022 graduates of Marquette University (Photo Credit: Marquette University)  

Graduation speeches can be very hit or miss. Sometimes you get a person who thinks they have it all figured out or whose speech is really just a résumé of their own awesomeness. And sometimes they’re just plain boring; at my graduation from Marquette University in 1991, our speaker went so long people in the audience started to sound air horns, I think just to signal they were still alive.

This weekend, I was back at Marquette University for my niece Molly’s graduation, and the speaker was N.B.A. All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Dwyane Wade. Mr. Wade attended Marquette from 2000 to 2003 and took the team to the Final Four before joining the Miami Heat, where he won three N.B.A. championships, including one in 2006 in which he was named M.V.P. of the finals.

Rather than talk about his many achievements, Mr. Wade spoke about two important moments of failure in his life. And from those experiences he drew insight about the importance of solitude and discernment in a life that is meaningful.

Rather than talk to the graduates of Marquette University about his many achievements, Dwyane Wade spoke about two important moments of failure in his life.

It was exactly the kind of thing you’d hope for both from a commencement address and someone who has invested in their education at a Jesuit school. And it gave not only the graduates but all of us listening a lot to think about.

You can watch it here. Below, you can read the text of Mr. Wade’s commencement address, with some edits at the beginning for length, used with the permission of Marquette University.

•••

The ideas I want to speak to you about today are solitude, self-awareness and “it’s the journey.”

How did I get here? I’m at a time in my life, as a 40-year-old man, where I’m starting to do more things by myself. So in mid-April, I was on a golf course in Orange County, Calif., playing golf by myself, and when I play golf alone, I like to put in ear buds because I’m not that good. So music kind of calms me. If we’ve got any golfers in here, you understand what I’m talking about—about the need to be calm on a golf course. But anyway, I’m on the fifth hole about to tee off, and my phone rings. Now, my first thought was, this better be an emergency. Because we have a master calendar in my house, and next to my name it said “Golf: All Day.” Which translates to: “Leave. Him. Alone.”

So I look down at my phone, and to my surprise it said, “President Lovell, Marquette University.” So I of course took the call. And President Lovell shared with me that he would like for 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 would be also graduating and that my being here would make a special day that much more special. So, Anna, I hope this helped. I hope bringing attention to you right now, Anna, was a good thing.

So I thank you guys, President Lovell, the entire Marquette family, thank you for this honor.

Once Coach showed that kind of confidence in me, I began thinking about my future and myself differently.

I want to take you back about 23 years. I know some people in the back were born 23 years ago; I don’t know about those up in the front. 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. [He was] the first person to bring a cap and gown to my house on a recruiting visit and tell me that he was not just recruiting me for my basketball abilities but because he believed I wanted more for myself and my family. The first person to offer me a scholarship, whether I passed my ACT or not, was Coach. I later found out he didn’t even have permission to do so.

Once Coach showed that kind of confidence in me, I began thinking about my future and myself 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; I took speed-reading classes at night, with the hope that I would be able to get through the test faster. I waited for months for my test results. And I remember 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 instantly filled with knots. These test scores were going to determine if I could play basketball at Marquette next season or if I would have to choose another path. So I left that classroom and I took the same walk that I had taken many times in my four years at Harold L. Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Ill. But this one felt different. I’m an 18-year-old kid who’s afraid of what those test scores are going to be and what they would actually say about me. If I didn’t pass, I felt like everyone would look at me as a failure. Was my way out being taken away? With each step all I could think about was 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. My first thought was to call Coach. My voice was trembling on the phone when he picked up, and 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 he told me that I will be attending Marquette University in the fall.

With a tremble in his voice he said, “Dwyane, we will still proceed with our plan,” and he told me that I will be attending Marquette University in the fall.

So in a couple minutes, I went through a roller coaster of emotions, from one of the loneliest and 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 turn my attention to the fear of it all, the fear of the unknown. What would be the next leg of my journey? What would the next leg of my journey look like? Who here has a fear of the unknown?

At 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 our thoughts. In solitude, I find clarity. There is no judgment. It’s where I get to know the real me. In solitude, I find understanding, and I create solutions. It’s also where I visualize what I want for my life. And I design a plan for achieving it.

In solitude, there is nothing that would get in the way of creating the life that you want, except you. When I was 9 years old, I visualized making it to the N.B.A. I visualized winning N.B.A. championships. Later in my life, I visualized the day that my mother would be able to be the grandmother to her grandkids that she always wanted. I visualized the day I’d be able to create a new bond with my dad and build new memories. I visualized building businesses. I visualized who my wife was going to be—I had posters up, she said—and what kind of parent I wanted to be.

In solitude, there is nothing that would get in the way of creating the life that you want, except you.

In solitude there are no barriers. Let me say that again: In solitude, there are no barriers.

A friend told me two important lessons. He said our two greatest fears are abandonment and claiming our greatness. We all look in the mirror every day, and in that mirror, we really get to see ourselves. We see our strengths and weaknesses, our imperfections. This is an opportunity to acknowledge ourselves again, without judgment. 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 easy 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.

Let me give you a brief basketball story. Back in the 2011-2012 season I was with the Miami Heat, and I turned 30. I was playing with a 27-year-old LeBron James, one of the greatest talents this league has ever seen. And unfortunately, we were coming off a championship loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the previous season. And after losing, there’s a lot of soul-searching that goes on. So 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 or if we were going to win any championships, we needed one definitive leader. And as obvious as that choice may seem today, because my brother LeBron will be entering his 100th season this year, it was not so obvious then.

The decision I made was a team decision, and the most difficult professional decision that I’ve ever made. But also I knew it was the correct one. We then went on to win two of the next three championships.

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

And I share this story because the success was only achieved through those moments of solitude and self-awareness.

Who here is chasing their dreams? What I’ve learned since retirement is that it’s not the dream that we should chase. It’s the experiences on the journey to fulfilling our dreams, that’s the win. I’m 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 you don’t feel like working, too tired, and you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway, that is actually 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 will come true. Something greater will.

Will your journey have some highlights? Yes. Will your journey have some lowlights? Yes. But 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 that someone else has planned for you, but living life on your terms.

Today, we celebrate you, what you have accomplished, as we should. And tomorrow you will wake up to begin the next leg of your journey. Your passion—I repeat, your passion—it lies on the journey ahead.

So to all of you, the graduating class of 2022, I just want to say congratulations, and thank you for allowing me to be here.

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