Do you remember any of the speakers at your various graduations? Grade school? High school? Trade school? College? Whatever? Me, I don’t remember any of them. Not a single one. Or what any of them said.
Sorry. It was a long time ago. And I had a lot on my mind. Big days, and there’s so much for your head and your heart to take in. That speaker’s carefully chosen words didn’t even leave a dent.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate a good commencement speech. One that says something not only to the distracted graduates, but to everyone else paying attention.
Over the weekend, I attended my daughter Abby’s graduation from Point Park University in Pittsburgh. The commencement speaker was Charlie Batch, the former Steelers quarterback.
(Note to Pittsburgh: I love your city, especially your downtown. It’s fantastic! But your obsession with sports is, well, a little bit creepy. People everywhere decked out in Steelers jerseys because it’s the NFL draft? I’m thinking an intervention might be in order.)
Charlie does a lot in his community. He works with kids who are having a tough go of things. He makes a difference in their lives, just as others made a difference in his.
He knows how that works.
Charlie described how he grew up in one of Pittsburgh’s roughest neighborhoods and used football as his way to get ahead. When he was in college, his younger sister was killed by a stray bullet in the crossfire between gang members. In his deep grief, he decided to quit college, quit football and go home.
A coach befriended him and talked him out of it. Told him that it served no purpose to waste his life in addition to losing hers. The comments resonated. That coach changed his mind, and his life.
Don’t we all.
Each of us has so much potential to affect others‘ lives, even though we’re not always aware of it. We make such a difference with how we treat others, what we say to them, how we’re there for them.
Sometimes, it simply comes down to spending time and sharing a few words and a little love and compassion. That alone can help someone get what they need.
Which led to Charlie’s second point: We need to be careful about who we choose to be in our pocket. He was talking about the linemen who form a protective pocket around the quarterback.
Quarterbacks love their blockers. Without them, the quarterback would be an abysmal failure and wind up on his back on every play.
Charlie’s question: Who have we chosen to be in our pocket?
You know what he means.
There are those who are willing to be there for us so long as it’s fun for them or so long as they can get something from us. As soon as we stop being fun or we start needing something from them, they pull away.
We’ve all come across people who are willing to be around us so long as we act like them or follow their direction and fit in with the rest of their group. When we try to be ourselves and share our thoughts and interests and feelings, they push us away.
And then there are those who are willing to be our friend so long as it’s not very challenging or messy. When we go off the deep end — as we all do at various times — they become hard to find.
If we choose those people for our pocket, we’re in trouble.
Thankfully, there are those other people. The ones who genuinely want to get to know us and love us and experience life with us. They’re willing to pay the price to be with us — the blockers in the pocket get knocked around a lot — because we’re worth it to them.
They want us in their lives, just as we are, messiness and all. They love who we are. They see greatness in us, even when we don’t see it in ourselves.
When something fantastic happens, they’re right there hugging us and celebrating with us. When we get knocked down, they’re right there offering a hand to help us up and encouragement to move on to the next play.
Always right there.
With one caveat: They’re not willing to let us grab their hand and pull them down. If they’re on the ground, they can’t help us or anybody else get up. And sometimes after a particularly hard hit, they have to let us catch our breath and regain our bearings before they can help us back up.
Those people are the ones we need to surround ourselves with. Better yet, we need to become one of those people for someone else.
Someone who’s good to have in the pocket.