Student-Athlete Signing Day Talk

(I spoke at the Student AthleteSigning Day event on Wednesday at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta where 20 students or roughly ten percent of our Senior class signed on to participate in college athletics. I drifted a bit from the words I had written down in advance, but what I include here is for the most part faithful to what I said.)


There are certain truths that athletic competition is brutally willing to reveal to us. Such competition at some point reveals our weaknesses, our doubts, and our hesitations. It points out to us, no matter how our teachers and parents and friends might try to shelter us from the news, that we have a long way to go and that there is work yet to be done.

In order to reach the point we celebrate today, our signees today have not only confronted the honesty of competition but they have risen above it. When they received news that improvement was needed, they realized hard work was necessary.

I love this moment for our signees. I love it when there is a tangible result for hard work and deep, sustained commitment. This is a moment when competition in its honesty shows its other side—the side that reveals what we are capable of, what we can achieve, and what is possible.

All over the country today there are high school athletes busy in ceremonies such as this one, signing their names in order to commit to the college or university of their choice.  They are putting on new hats and jerseys. They are accepting the congratulations of coaches, teachers, peers, family, and friends.

I worry at times about how prepared this national group is for the pressures, challenges, and temptations that lie ahead. I worry about the cultural priorities we have attached to college athletics and how this generation of student-athletes will rise to its challenges or be buried beneath them. I wonder how this group will maintain their values and their sense of what is really important. I know these challenges are often far more difficult than the ones athletes face on the mat, or field, or court, or river, or pool, or track.

Importantly, for this group signing today, I worry less about you.  I am confident in not only what you do as a student athlete but also who you are when you do it. My confidence and faith in you is born of my knowledge of where you have been. You have had the coaches I would wish for my own child. These people are not simply present today—they are sharing this moment with you.

You also have families who have driven endlessly to get you to games, camps, and coaches. These same families have picked you up when you have fallen. By the way the origins of the sports odyssey that lands you here today may seem long ago to you, but it likely feels like yesterday to them. They have loved you and sacrificed for you. Thank them—in fact let us thank all of the coaches and family members here today with applause.

Before I finish and hand off to Coach Drake, I would like share a wish I have for you…

My daughter and I throw the lacrosse ball a lot. She is in fourth grade, and she could tell you  every name on the Varsity Girls Roster. She loves the game. There is joy in her play. She would sleep with her stick and cleats if we let her.  She comes to mind for me today perhaps because of this truth: you don’t get to take everything you have now with you to college—your friends don’t all go with you, your coaches and parents don’t go with you.  One thing that does get to go with you is that joy of playing the sport you love.  Keep that safe.  Maintain it. Take care of it.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak and congratulations to each of you…