Here’s one commencement speaker who was in no danger of being driven from the podium by student and faculty protests.
Alabama native Philip Rivers (born in Decatur, raised in Athens), quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, is a devout Catholic, a husband and father of seven.
On May 17, the North Carolina State University graduate received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters and delivered the 125th annual commencement address at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Rivers spoke from the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the United States’ national Catholic church (not to be confused with the National Cathedral in D.C., which is Episcopalian).
Here’s what he had to say:
President Garvey, Cardinal Wuerl, board of trustees, faculty, and staff. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. It is a real honor to be here. To the family, friends, and supporters of these graduates, thank you for your investment in their lives. And finally, to the graduating class of 2014 — Congratulations on a remarkable accomplishment.
Although I had been on ESPN and other national TV broadcasts throughout my career, my mother once told me when I appeared on EWTN’s “Life on the Rock” that I had really made it to the “big time.” Now, with this opportunity to be a part of this year’s commencement exercises here at The Catholic University of America, I’ve really arrived. What makes it even more special is being on the steps of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I was born on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
I want to share a Latin phrase with you that is very special to me, and that I think we all can and should apply to our everyday lives. I felt so strongly about this phrase, we adopted it as a team, and had it on t-shirts and on the walls throughout our practice facility. It is a Latin phrase. Nunc Coepi. Now I begin. In our prayer, in our habits, in our relationships, in our profession. It is applicable to everything. Nunc Coepi (Now I begin). Whether you made a bad grade or didn’t do so well on a project. You must begin again. When I have a bad play or a good play, whether I throw a touchdown or an interception, I must begin again. Nunc Coepi….it certainly applies to you graduates who now are beginning the next chapter in your lives. You now begin. But this is ongoing. You begin again, and again and again. You never give up. Nunc Coepi.
Nunc Coepi. I can’t quite put the Latin twang on it. It’s more of an Alabama twang. But it gets the job done. Remember that phrase and reflect on it as I continue.
It wasn’t too long ago, well I guess it has been a decade, that I was sitting in your seat…I had mixed emotions. I was somber, leaving great experiences and great relationships, but I was also eager to face the next challenge. I wasn’t certain what the future held, but I was certain of what mattered most to me. I knew as long as I stayed focused on my priorities, I would be ready for life’s ups and downs. What are your priorities? What is the foundation on which you will build your future? Mine are very simple. Faith, family, and football–in that order.
You may find this hard to believe, but I’m pretty passionate about football. I hide it pretty well on Sunday afternoons. (Just kidding.) Of course I’m passionate about football. It has meant so much to me. Football means time with my dad. I grew up around my dad’s football team. I was the water boy, ball boy, and longed for the time when I would get to be his quarterback. What an experience it was. We share so many great memories together. Even now, I call him almost daily to analyze the previous game, discuss the next opponent, or just simply talk ball. He and I can and do talk about everything, but there’s something special about talking football with my dad.
Football also means camaraderie. The fans, touchdowns, making the highlights on “SportsCenter”… that’s all fun stuff. But it’s the bus rides, the locker room, the practice field, the weight room, and all the time spent with teammates and coaches that are the most enjoyable. It’s setting team goals, facing the obstacles shoulder to shoulder, and climbing that mountain together. The journey with my teammates is what makes the wins so special.
Football means preparation, hard work, and achievement. Football means pursuing excellence, and striving to get better. It’s the guts to overcome failures, the resolve to never give up, and the thrill of winning! Are y’all fired up yet?
Well, I realize that not everybody is passionate about football. Class of 2014, what are you passionate about? What fires you up? What gets you excited about life? What is your football? Life is too short to just go through the motions. Discover your passion, if you haven’t already, and do it to the best of your ability. Nunc Coepi.
Another priority of mine is my family. I’ve already mentioned my dad. I was blessed with a loving, supportive mom and dad who taught me the value of family. I now have been married to my wonderful wife Tiffany 13 years, and have seven beautiful children–five girls and two boys. We are outnumbered. There is no shortage of entertainment at our house, to say the least. What a blessing each of ‘em are.
When I come home from a road game, it’s not cameras and microphones, autographs and photos, or jeers and heckling. It’s bikes and scooters and sidewalk chalk all over the place. Win or lose, those seven children and my wife love me for being Dad and husband. My family keeps it all in perspective. Although I will say, as my oldest son is getting older, I do get questioned sometimes when I have an off game or throw an interception. He asked me recently, “Dad, why did you throw it to that guy?” People often ask about my hobbies…Golf, fishing, whatever? My favorite hobbies are playing with the kids in the yard, endless hours of wiffleball, swimming in the pool, walks to the park–all nine of us together, that’s what I love to do….
Tiffany and I work hard to cultivate a fun culture of morality, encouragement, and unconditional love, and the freedom to fail. You protect the things you value by preparing, praying, planning, setting goals, working hard, and being intentional…leaving nothing to chance. Tiffany always tells me as I walk out the door to head to the stadium, after we say one Hail Mary together, “Do your best, and let God do the rest.” That’s all any of us can do.
As a quarterback, I prepare and plan very meticulously to achieve my football goals. How much more should Tiffany and I prepare and plan to achieve our family goals. Class of 2014, what is valuable to you? Avoid regret that comes with chance…Identify what is valuable to you, then prepare and plan to protect it. Nunc Coepi.
Lastly, I can’t tell you about my priorities, my foundation, what defines me, without telling you about my faith. My Catholic faith. C.S. Lewis said this about Christianity, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
My faith is the most important thing in my life. I was an altar boy as a child. I cherished the opportunity to be that close and involved in the celebration of the Eucharist. The one very basic fundamental of our faith that was instilled in me as a young boy from my parents, was to never miss Mass on Sunday. This was so instilled and lived out by our family as I was growing up, that when I got to college and was officially on my own, missing Mass was not an option.
My faith truly became my own during this time. I was married in college, had my oldest daughter, and started to build a family centered on Christ, and our Catholic faith. We strive to raise our children to know, love and serve God. Staying in the state of grace and receiving the sacraments allows us, all of us, to better live out our faith. No matter where one is on his or her faith journey, it is fitting to say Nunc Coepi.
In addition to having your priorities set, there are other traits that help us grow as people in our spiritual lives and our professional careers — many of which I could mention and many that you may have heard before. But there are two I want to share with you that I have experienced and dealt with over the past few years.
First: Don’t worry.
There were so many ups and downs for me in the 2010, 2011, 2012 seasons, and I had many struggles, that I began to worry. When would a bad play happen again? Would we make the playoffs ever again? Will I continue to have turnover problems? As these bad thoughts and worries crept in, I began to read and pray and meditate on this from Imitations of Christ:
What good is anxiety about the future? Does it bring you anything but trouble upon trouble? It is foolish and useless to be either grieved or happy about future things which perhaps may never happen. But it is human to be deluded by such imaginations, and the sign of a weak soul to be led on by suggestions of the enemy. For he does not care whether he consumes you by love of the present or fear of the future. Let not your heart be troubled or be afraid. Believe in Me and trust in My mercy. Don’t worry.
Second, be thankful.
January of 2013, our oldest son, who was 5 years old, was diagnosed with T1 diabetes. Immediately, anguish and sadness and frustration all emerge and as a family, as mom and dad, we felt like it was the end of the world. How would he adjust? What does this mean? How hard will this be? After walking in and out of the children’s hospital and seeing other, sicker children, we became grateful. Not happy that our son would deal with this for the rest of his life, but we all have our crosses to bear. Not all of them the same, and I was once told, that if we all could see everyone else’s problems, threw them in a big pile, we would probably want to just keep ours. Through this life changing health issue and throughout the struggling seasons, we have much to be thankful for. Also from The Imitation of Christ:
Be thankful for the least benefit, and you will be worthy to receive greater. Let the least be received as the greatest, and things that are little be to you as a special gift. If the majesty of the Giver be considered, nothing that is given shall seem small and of no worth. For nothing is small which is given by the Most High God. Although he gives punishment and stripes, we should be thankful, because whatever he allows is for our benefit.
With all that said, I can make two guarantees to you today. First, your time on earth will end. Second, you will be remembered for something. Class of 2014, how do you want to be remembered? Answer that question now while your best years are still ahead of you. I’ve shared with you about my priorities. What are your priorities? On what foundation will you build your future? What is your passion? What fires you up? What will you protect? How will you be remembered? You are on the brink of your greatest challenges yet…Don’t take that step without a firm commitment to your priorities.
In closing, St. Bernard of Clairvaux said this. “A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly.”
The Catholic University of America Class of 2014
Don’t worry. Be thankful. And Nunc Coepi.
Congratulations and God bless.