It Was Never About The Ball (aka What I Wish I Had Known at 18)

This past weekend, I got the honor of being the keynote speaker at the Eastern Plains Athletic Conference honors banquet, which was being held in my hometown.  I thought I would  share my speech.

15 years ago, I was in your shoes. Preparing to graduate from my small town high school and ready to take on the world. I mean, some things were different. No one had ever heard of Facebook when I was a senior.  We took pictures with actual cameras. I didn’t know there was a hairstyle that didn’t involve a perm. And at a banquet like this, everyone’s cell phones were in their vehicles, safely inside their Velcro bags, as they should be.  Time changes things, that’s for sure. 

I learned so much in the walls of this school, and I know the same is true for all of you at yours.  The best way to dissect a cat. How to conjugate Spanish verbs. And in that gym right there, I learned exactly how many suicides the coach means when he says we are “running until someone pukes!” 

But as I look back, there are so many things I wish someone would have told me before I left high school.  So when I got the opportunity to speak here today, I made a list of things I wish I had known at 18. 

1. Appreciate where you came from. I know there are a lot of you who cannot wait to get the heck out of Dodge. You want to live somewhere with a traffic light. You want to have restaurant options with more expansive menus than the chimi or beef burrito. You want to know if a person really can live without every. single. person. knowing all your business all. the. time. I get it.  But when you leave, you don’t want to forget where you came from. Your hometown gave you roots. There are no better people in the world than those in Eastern New Mexico. They have loved you and supported you your entire lives.  They bought every ridiculous thing you were selling as a fundraiser. Seriously, no one needs a box full of freaking pears guys. They have cheered for you on Friday and Saturday nights. They have prayed with you in church pews and mourned with you at gravesides. It’s great to want to leave and try something new, but always remember where you came from and respect the people who made you who you are.  And one day, when some kid shows up at your door, you get out the checkbook and buy the dang box of pears, because that’s just what we do here. 

2. Go to class. To those of you going to college, this is the most important piece of academic advice I can offer. Go to class.  I don’t care if you are too tired or too sick or too bored or too busy or if you had entirely too much fun the night before, go sit your butt in the chair. It honestly is hard to fail if you just show up. 

3. You have to take care of you. For your entire life, people have helped look after you. Your parents have kept you fed and clothed. Your counselor or ag teacher probably made sure you got your scholarship applications filled out. Your coaches carried an extra uniform for those times when you brought the wrong color jersey (again). But as you go out into the world, it will be up to you.   You have to pay attention to things like what credits you need to graduate and the balance in your bank account before you swipe that debit card and whether you have any clothes to wear dancing on Thursday night that pass the smell test. It’s on you to be your own best advocate.

4. Dream big. I think that one of the most detrimental things we can do in our lives is to dream too small. Too often, we sell ourselves short because we doubt our abilities or we just don’t even know what opportunities are out there. During my second year of law school, I started looking for summer jobs. Somehow, I came upon a list of the top 25 law firms in the United States. So, I sent every one of those firms a resume. Now, understand these are the fancy white shoe firms that hire kids from Harvard and Yale and I really wish I could tell you I was just insanely brave or super confident,  but honestly, I think I was just too dumb to realize what a reach it was to think they would even interview  a student from UNM.  In the end,  I got back 23 rejection letters. But 2 firms gave me an interview. And I spent the next summer living in an apartment overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  I rode the trolley to work every day, made more money in a week than I made in a month at any other job, and got the chance to work with many of the top legal minds in the country.   When I was 18, I could not have even fathomed that something like this was possible for anyone, much less for me. And had I been afraid of rejection or deterred by those 23 letters, I would have missed that entire experience.  But, without a doubt, that summer changed my life, because it taught me the power of a big dream.

 As you look to the future, dream big.  Believe in yourself. Take time to really investigate what opportunities are out there. And then reach for some that seem wholly unattainable. Because you never know what you can accomplish when you go after it.

5. Always talk to your cab driver.  You are going to see that society will tell you there are certain people who are beneath you.  Janitors. Secretaries.  Cab drivers.  And society is dead wrong.  Take the time to acknowledge and talk to these people.  Why?  Three reasons.  First, because they are people and deserve to be seen and treated with respect.  Second, because when you do, you are likely to find out they have amazing, inspiring stories.  As one of my favorite songs says about cab drivers, “I hope I am half the man of the men who drive me places.”  And finally, because they are likely to save your bacon one day.  As a young lawyer, I learned really fast that a good legal secretary and paralegal were far more valuable than me.  And more than once, mine saved my rear and probably kept me from getting fired!  Had I been a jerk to them, they might have just let me sink.  

A while back, someone came to me for help because he said I was the only one who ever really talked to him and listened to what he had to say.  You know what? I would trade in every award on my wall for that compliment.  Because that’s the way I think we should all strive to be to one another.

6.  Get to know people who are different than you. For the most part, almost everyone you know is like you. With a handful of exceptions, my guess is that most people have the same religion, mostly the same political beliefs, and pretty much the same background as you. But the world doesn’t just look like us.  It wasn’t until I left home that I made friends with people who were really different than me.  At OSU, I met a girl who had honestly never seen a cow in person. I have sat shiva with a Jewish friend and his family afternhia grandpa’s funeral at the Temple.  One of the funniest guys I know is a Hindu, vegetarian from California.  In law school, I sat next to a girl who wore a hajib and read the Koran. And if the combo of the last presidential election and Facebook taught me anything, it is that my friends have political beliefs all across the board. And you know what? I am better for knowing every single one of these people. They have taught me that though we are all different, we are still the same too, and that we can disagree on fundamental, important things, but still be kind and respectful of each other.  And that is a lesson this world badly needs.

7.  Find your passion and make a difference. There is a difference in the world that God designed you to make. And I honestly believe that God places different tugs on people’s heart for a reason–so that there is someone to help with every important need.  Let’s take adoption for example. I know many families who have adopted and some felt very strongly that they wanted to adopt domestically to help a child here in our country.  Others will absolutely tell you their purpose was to adopt kids from China or Haiti.  And neither one is wrong, just different. And because of that, all those children have families.  Another example I just recently lived, occurred when my husband and I adopted a Syrian refugee family living in a refugee camp in Lebanon.  Many friends donated to that cause, but many did not.  And of those who didn’t, during the same time frame, some organized a Christmas drive to be sure homeless kids got gifts. Another opened a school for blind kids in Uganda.  And when the wildfires swept across the panhandle, countless friends and family helped in more ways than I can count. 

With all this in mind,  I beg of you to find your passion and whether you have a job that lets you make a difference through your work or you find an outside opportunity to give back, find your difference.  And then make it!

8.  Pull your hair back and get to work. I could not stand in this school and speak today without mentioning one of my very favorite people in the world, whom many of you will know, Coach Jerry Franklin. We’d be here for days for me to walk you though everything I learned from that man. Instead, I chose one lesson. There were a couple of times when we would be at a stock show or a judging contest and us girls would be dolled up thinking we looked cute and perhaps not completely focusing on the task at hand. Clear as day, I can remember him saying, “Girls, you pull your hair back and get to work!” There is nothing in the world that is more important than working hard. Many times, you will encounter people who are more talented than you, people who have more natural ability. But often, if you are just flat willing to outwork them, to out hustle them, to put in the unglamorous practice time, you will come out ahead. 

And my final thought for you all today–the best of the best when it comes to athletic talent in the Eastern Plains Athletic Conference–is that it was never about the ball. Sure, the state championship banners on the wall and rings on your fingers are nice. The gold emblems on your FFA jackets are something to be proud of. Your NHS patches on your letter jacket are well deserved. But they aren’t what it’s really about.  In a few years, when you look back about your high school career, you will see it too. You will realize that the work ethic, the being part of a team, the sense of community, and the relationships with your coaches, teammates, and even your competitors from other school…turns out that’s what it was all really about, rather than how well you could bounce a ball. 
So take all the lessons. The ones you learned in a classroom or a basketball court or a show ring or a football field or here today, and put them to use. Make us all proud. The world needs good adults. Now go be one. 

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