Steve Rushin's Commencement Address to Marquette University


Continued from previous page.


I wrote about all of this. And when I left Sports Illustrated two months ago, the President - five years after our meeting - sent me a hand-written letter that I found tied to our mailbox post because the door to our mailbox doesn't close. The letter began, "Dear Mr. Sports Illustrated, I read your final column in your literary home of 19 years. Like many who enjoy your work, I'll miss your humor, style and compassion. Please don't worry about the mud in the West Wing. After a lot of scrubbing, I have finally cleaned the mess. I enjoyed meeting you. I wish you all the best in your next venture. Sincerely, George Bush. P.S., Good luck, STEVE." That is to say, I do too know your name.

So, those making the history of our age - for better or worse - aren't all that different from you and me. They take their pants off one leg at a time and read Sports Illustrated in the bathroom. There is no reason why you can't make the history of your age.

Had I known at 21 what I know now about authority and the trappings of power and what we traditionally think of as "success," I'd have been much less intimidated about going out there into the so-called real world.

So relax. As Marquette graduates you are extraordinarily well-positioned to make it in this world and to make this world a better place. I didn't yet realize this when I graduated and immediately moved to New York City. At LaGuardia airport, a helpful stranger - without my even asking - silently took my soft-sided luggage off the baggage carousel and brought it to his car, an unlicensed gypsy cab; when he charged me 40 bucks for a 20 dollar fare into Manhattan I asked if that included tip and he said - I will never forget this - he said, "A tip would be nice."

On one of my first days in a cubicle at Sports Illustrated, a co-worker offered to get sandwiches at a deli across the street and I ordered what I had eaten since first grade: Bologna and American cheese with mayo on white bread. And my colleagues - many of whom would become friends - howled with laughter. And I thought, not for the first time, "What am I doing here? Who do I think I am? I'm an impostor in this East Coast, establishment, Ivy League world."

But I gradually gained confidence. It helped to demystify this world that I had three roommates from Yale who weren't exactly brain surgeons and thought Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Milwaukee were pretty much all the same interchangeable place, which they frequently conflated as Mindianapolis.

And it helped that I'd sometimes see my Marquette contemporary Chris Farley in black Chuck Taylor hightops and zebra-striped Zubaz sweat-pants in the communion line at St. Patrick's Cathedral, after he'd become a star on Saturday Night Live. And that was inspiring, to see another Midwesterner from Marquette making his way in a very public occupation.

He possessed one of the most attractive qualities a human being can have: He could laugh at himself. I took myself too seriously when I was your age; I don't anymore. You'll discover all too quickly - if you haven't already - that you're not a larger-than-life phenomenon, that life is a larger-than-YOU phenomenon. My first wedding present was addressed - not as a joke - to Rebecca and Steve Lobo. I saved the mailing label to remind me of who I am. If I wore britches, I would never get too big for them.

So I gradually became less worried by what the world thought of me, and more comfortable, and more confident, in my place in that world. Who did I think I was, this Midwestern hayseed who called soda "pop," asked for Wonder bread in a New York deli and had so much faith in his fellow man that he eagerly surrendered his valuables to the first person he ever saw at LaGuardia?

I'll tell you who I was, who I am, who we are: We are Marquette.

Don't ever forget it. I know you won't. You've been raised too well and are - it's official now - too well-educated.

Last week, my wife and I got a new TV and we lay the empty box it came in on its side in the yard for our two-year-old daughter to play in. Our daughter, Siobhan, graciously invited me into that box and we lay there on our stomachs for a long time staring out at our garden. And I got to thinking.

Now, one of the many pieces of bad advice you'll get in life is "Think outside the box." Let me tell you: Sometimes it pays to think inside a box. And so my daughter and I lay in that box and gazed out at the dozens upon dozens of tulips my wife planted in rows last fall. They bloomed this month, tilting ever so slightly toward the sun. And I thought how remarkable it is that in nature, life wants to grow towards the light.

Now I'm looking out at another crop of spring perennials - you graduates; you graduators - and I see row upon row of you in the sublime beauty of your youth. And my only wish for you is that you keep growing towards the light.

I know you will. Congratulations and thank you all.


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