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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Speech Delivered to Oglesby High School Sports Banquet

On a cold and snowy morning in 160ad a sea of Barbarians crested the top of a rise just outside of Germany’s southern border. They howled in unintelligible languages and beat their spears and clubs against the crudely fashioned shields on their arms. They wore matted fur and skins from whatever beast they could find and their beards made them look more beastlike than even these poor animals.
Across the valley to the south were formed the gleaming ranks of the 3rd and 4th legions of Rome, their gold and red armor glinting in the winter sunlight. Not a man moved nor broke his ranks; each stood like a monolith to order and discipline. Their spears were neatly tucked inside their arms, their emblazoned shields resting on the ground at the ready. Their hatred for their foe was only surpassed by their love for Rome, and by their love for their commander, Maximus Decius Meridius, but you may know him as Gladiator.
You may not have stood on a hill facing your enemy as these men did, but you have lined up beside one another and fought for just one more yard. You have huddled together before a fight and cheered one another on to score more often and with greater authority than your opponent. You have run the good race and swung clubs, rackets, and your very bodies with reckless abandon to achieve victory. You are all gladiators.
The famous words of Maximus find us at that battle field thousands of years ago – “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” Surely he understood the far-reaching effects of our choices and actions in this life and how they can shape us for all time. His men were valliant and true – they fought for their beloved general and to protect their homelands. They were disciplined and smart.
What does all of this have to do with an outstanding group of men and women about to leave the happy confines of this place and the competition that it offered? Only everything. The battles that you have fought here and the achievements that you have accomplished and the awards you have earned this very evening are testimony to the truth of your character. You are willing to commit yourself to something difficult. You are willing to train your body and your mind to be faster, stronger, and sharper than before. You have become disciplined and smart. You have become a warrior.
The lessons that you have learned whilst training your body and mind are what will echo in the lives you are about to lead. You will find it certainly true that the competition for education, jobs, a family, and for success in life is the same competition that you found in the gym, or on the gridiron, or on the track. You will most certainly find that the true competition is with yourself. So I offer you three words of advice this night to carry with you. You have undoubtedly learned these lessons well, but perhaps hearing them again will remind you of their importance.
First, understand the battle. I learned through my years as a lineman that I would never be the biggest man I faced, nor would I ever be the quickest. What came as a great revelation to me was that I indeed did not have to be in order to win. Rather, I discovered that I could learn better technique, better foot movement, and better mental preparation and be the best on the line. Knowing that revealed to me that the competition was absolutely not with the man lining up opposite me; the test was already passed or failed in my preparation.
Remember that the battles you will face are all within yourself. Your preparation for life through education, discipline, and training are the battlefields worthy of your energy and time. Leave the petty competitions for prestige and fame to those who are too simple to understand this truth. Be the man or woman who seeks greatness within himself or herself. Don’t waste time fighting over things that you cannot change; instead battle to ever improve your spirit, your mind, and your contribution to the world.
Secondly, play as a team. No sport that you could participate is a solo experience. Sure, you may compete in number 1 singles at tennis, or you might be the only person responsible for where your golf shot lands, but never think that you are in this alone. Whether the sport is basketball or Macroeconomics, you absolutely must play as a team. Without a group of people working toward the same goals as you, you have no one to learn from, no one to mentor, and no one to rely on. The legionnaires were helpless away from their formation. Their armor could not protect them from attack from all angles, nor could they be sufficiently trained to always guard their own backs. Their success was determined by their ability to work together and as a unit.
You also will need to work with people when you leave this place. You will not be dressing with them, or necessarily bleeding with them, but you will be put together with other men and women who are depending on you to achieve a goal. Play along side them and contribute those things that you are uniquely good at. For we are indeed all members of a body in society; find your function and do that function as best you can.
Finally, go out and play. All the speeches in the world will not pry your bodies from the seats of youth. Instead it is only the choice that you make to get up and do something that will move you from this night. Yes, you are to all be commended for your achievements this year, but do not let those achievements sit idly on a shelf tomorrow; let them motivate you to greater things in coming days. You must go out and play the game that is life. You must have the courage to try, to succeed, and to fail. Teddy Roosevelt writes that
"It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
The critics do not count; the finger-pointers matter little; it is the warrior who dares to stand in the arena to try and try and try again that knows the joy of life! I charge each man and woman here to have the uncommon courage to transform themselves into the man and woman that would indeed dare to fight for their dreams, to challenge their own limitations, and to advance with confidence in the direction of their dreams. They will be met with a success not found in common people, but, like the victors on the field or track or court, they will prevail in all their endeavors.
You sit tonight on the eve of that great battle between the well-ordered discipline of Rome and the chaos of barbarism. You have been suitably recognized and decorated tonight. Your bodies and minds have been toned and sharpened. What will you do now? This is when next season begins. Whether you are leaving this school or reloading for another year, leave this place this evening with the knowledge that life imitates the sports you play. You can dominate in both realms if you will but strive to be more than you are. Be that gladiator in the arena with blood and dirt and sweat on your face. Be a champion at what matters in life. May the blessings of God be upon you and your families in all the days to come.

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