Behind The Scenes

Graduation time commences season of speeches for several ESPN Commentators

MLB reporter Buster Olney spoke at the Northern State University commencement ceremony.
MLB reporter Buster Olney spoke at the Northern State University commencement ceremony.
Mike Tirico participates in the commencement ceremony at Syracuse University. (Photo credit: Syracuse University)
Mike Tirico participates in the commencement ceremony at Syracuse University. (Photo credit: Syracuse University)

Graduation season is an exciting time of year at campuses across the country.

High school and college students receive their diplomas, marking the culmination of years of hard work, study and hopefully a little fun as well.

Before students go out into the “real” world or matriculate to college, they will hopefully take away one last lesson from the commencement speakers at their graduation ceremonies.

This year, several ESPN commentators have the honor of giving these speeches. Front Row asked them about the thrill of having such a unique opportunity and to share the words of encouragement they will pass along to the 2013 graduates.

Monday Night Football, NBA and golf play-by-play voice Mike Tirico gave the keynote address at his alma mater, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, on May 11:

“I was excited to address the graduates but had no idea how emotional it would turn out to be. It truly turned into a day I will never forget. The highlight was shaking hands with the graduates as they walked across stage after their names were called. Their kind words and the smiles on their faces will stay with me for a long time. It goes down as one of the most rewarding days I have ever spent on campus.”

Sample reaction to Tirico’s speech:


MLB reporter Buster Olney spoke at Northern State University in South Dakota on May 4. Olney was invited to speak by legendary Northern State basketball coach Don Meyer. (Note: Olney did an E:60 piece on Meyer in the spring of 2009, and wrote a book about him, “How Lucky You Can Be,” in November 2010):

“I wanted to focus on the idea of community, which is very strong at Northern State and in Aberdeen, S.D., through the life of Don Meyer and the death of Bryce Anglin. When Coach Meyer called me to ask if I would do this, my first question was: do you think I’d have anything worthwhile to say to them?”

Sample reaction to Olney’s speech:


Injury analyst Stephania Bell will speak today at the graduation ceremony for the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy:

“My primary message is to encourage the graduates to follow their passion. My career path has hardly been typical of most PTs but I always knew where my primary interests were – combining sports, medicine and education. I’ve been blessed to have a number of supportive people in my corner along the way when I entertained ideas that seemed outrageous (talking about injuries in fantasy football, for instance). If you discover what you’re passionate about and pursue that course, even if the path may take a lot of unexpected twists and turns, you will find personal and professional fulfillment.”

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Other ESPN commentators giving commencement speeches this season

• College basketball and football host Rece Davis, who spoke at Trine University in Angola, Ind., on May 4

• Around the Horn contributor and longtime Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan spoke at Southern New Hampshire University on May 11

• NFL host Chris Berman will be the commencement speaker at Greenwich (Conn.) High School on June 21.

On Saturday, ESPN Radio host Freddie Coleman will speak at Mansfield University, his alma mater:

“To be selected to give the commencement speech is definitely the highlight of my professional life. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to be up on that stage and I can’t wait to find out. As for my remarks, I definitely want to let the graduates know that a sense of entitlement is the WORST thing that you can have if you are going to succeed.”

National correspondent Sal Paolantonio will give a pair of speeches this month. On Saturday, he will address graduates at his alma mater, the State University of New York (SUNY)-Oneonta, where he will receive the degree of honorary doctorate of Humane Letters. On May 30, he will speak to high school graduates at Saddlebrook Prep in Tampa, Fla.

Paolantonio’s message to the college graduates will be different from what he shares with the high school students: “At SUNY, the basic theme will be that when you leave college, you will quickly find out that life is blocking and tackling at the sidewalk level. You will have to compete to be great at something – compete every single day. I will tell them to pick something and be great at it. But don’t do it just for the money.”

On his remarks to the high school students, Paolantonio said: “I’m going to use the message at the entrance to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City pointed out to me by my English teacher when we went on a class trip the year after man landed on the Moon. It says, ‘All seats provide equal viewing of the universe.’ It’s a metaphor, of course: it doesn’t matter where you sat in that planetarium, you could see all the stars. And the same goes for life. It’s up to you to take advantage of it.”

Kristen Hudak contributed to this post

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