Steve Rushin's Commencement Address to Marquette University


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So the question is: What do you want to be? Or, if I may put it more grandly, what do you want the world to be? Don't tell me. Show me. You're out of school now: Show-and-tell is over. When your life is graded, show will count for a lot more than tell.

For my commencement, my mom and dad drove over from the Twin Cities and stayed in a Howard Johnson's near here. Three years later, my mother was gone. And soon after, come to think of it, so was the Howard Johnson's. When my mom called me in New York in the summer of 1991 to say she was dying, she said - just before hanging up the phone - "I love you." And I remember thinking, 'Well, of course you do.'

A few months later, I flew home for her funeral and my dad met me in the driveway and he said, "I love you." In both cases, never were three words more unnecessary. My parents' love was obvious and demonstrated daily. Ours was not the kind of family who ended every phone conversation with, "I love you," "I love you, too," "I love you more," "No, I love you more, don't forget to pick up bread . . ."

If love is blind, it is certainly entitled to be mute. And in our family it was at the very least tongue-tied. I didn't need to hear that my parents loved me, for I saw and felt - still see and feel - my parents' love every day.

This doesn't mean they liked me. On graduation day of 1988, my father gave me a set of soft-sided luggage and what he calls The Golden Handshake, a ceremonial photo-op, in which he shook my hand in front of Gesu and absolved himself of any further financial responsibility in my life. He did it with all my siblings and the message was not a subtle one: Get the hell out of here.

And yet, even then, he hedged his bet. My parents didn't ship my belongings to New York City until nine months after I started at Sports Illustrated, just in case I needed to come home.

So: You want the world to be a more loving place? Easy: Be more loving. My father didn't know his own father, but he raised five happy children who are now raising twelve happy children and so he gave 17 people a better start in life than he had. There is no higher calling in life than making the world better for one person, and he has done it for 17. He's made the world a less happy place for a lot of people, too. But I assure you, every one of those telemarketers had it coming.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I recently saw that on a bumper sticker in Connecticut. It was on a car belching black exhaust and consuming gas at three-and-a-half bucks a gallon. But let's overlook those minor details and concentrate on the sentiment: Be the Change.

Last year, I met a 68-year-old blind man in New Jersey named Ed Lucas, whose wife left him when their two children were very young, and Ed raised the boys on his own, taking them to the movies every Saturday afternoon at the Loews in Jersey City. Every Saturday, Ed sat there in the dark, listening to the movies. One day, after an eternity of music, he asked the boys if the movie was ever gonna start. His son Chris said: "Dad, the movie started an hour ago." It was the Disney musical "Fantasia."

The blind man taking his kids to the movies is as good a definition of parental love as I have ever heard.

So be the change. Don't leave it to our leaders to solve our problems. I've met our leaders and they're very much like you. Or, more sobering still, they're very much like me.

A few years ago, I was at a private party at the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta when President Clinton walked into the room. My now-wife had met him on several occasions and so he greeted her warmly and she introduced me as her fiancée and President Clinton said to me, "You're getting married. That's great. If I could just give you one piece of marital advice . . ." And I thought, 'This is fantastic. I'm getting marital advice from President Clinton.' But he said to have as many kids as we can because they'll take care of us in our old age, and I took that to heart.

Then a photographer asked to take a picture and I glommed onto one side of the president and Rebecca on to the other and the picture was taken. Then the photographer gestured for me to move out of the frame. Clinton's Secret Service man, God bless him, said 'Don't worry, that happens to me all time.' And I assure you, it happens to me all the time, too. Someone will come up and recognize my 6'4" wife and, I assume, me and ask if it's all right to take a picture and I smile and say, "Sure," and just as I'm about to say "Cheese" the guy will hand me the camera and put his arm around my wife.

One time, I was asked to stay in the frame. At O'Hare, a man asked to take a picture of Rebecca and I instinctively stepped out of the frame and he said, "No, no, you stay in there too, Andre Agassi."

I met the current President Bush in the White House. I had just come from the Kentucky Derby and had red clay from the Churchill Downs track all over my dress shoes and so I left muddy footprints all over the West Wing carpeting. It looked like an Arthur Murray dance chart.

President Bush called me "Mr. Sports Illustrated," because he couldn't remember my name, even though it was on a card in front of me. And he recalled having just come from Ohio State, where he said he had enjoyed speaking to the - he couldn't think of the name for all of you - and finally he said he enjoyed meeting the . . . the . . . "the GRADUATORS."

After our interview, he asked me if I thought Barry Bonds was on steroids. (Continued)

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