Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was back at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday, the place where he helped lead the Wisconsin Badgers to a Big Ten Championship in 2011. This time, however, Wilson wasn't in Madison to deliver passes, but rather the commencement speech to the 2016 graduates of the University of Wisconsin.
Wilson covered a lot of ground in an 18-minute speech, ranging from a very personal and serious topic, the death of his father, Harrison, in 2010, to Wilson's road from NC State to Wisconsin, to humorous topics, such as coming to the realization that he'll never be Michael Jackson.
"My moonwalk cuts the rug," he said. "Dancing machine, smooth criminal, this guy. But no matter how badly I want to be a pop star, it would not matter how much self-confidence I had or have or how many hours I spend at the studio. Trust me on this—I cannot sing."
Wilson also worked in a fair amount of self-deprecating humor when sharing some lessons he has learned in life since leaving Wisconsin.
"Of course, I'm also here to share some things I've learned," he said. "Things like, if you're dating a woman that's way out of your league, ask her to marry you. If you can throw a football 80 yards, for some reason people think that's pretty cool. And if you're playing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and you've got 26 seconds left and you're down by four and it's second-and-goal on their 1-yard line, try not to throw an interception. That's purely, purely hypothetical though, of course."
Wilson's speech focused on what he has done over the years when life has told him no, whether that coming to grips with the fact that he would never be a pop star, to the times obstacles stood between him and his goal of being an NFL quarterback.
"Here's my first charge to the graduates," Wilson said. "When life tells you no, ask yourself honestly, 'What am I capable of?' And once you know the answer, don't be afraid to let everyone else know it too."
For Wilson's next message to the graduates, he told the story of the time he hit a game-winning home run for N.C. State after coming off the bench.
"When life tells you no, stay ready," he said. "Always be ready."
Wilson then went on to talk about a time in life when life threw him and his family a far more serious challenge.
"Sometimes life tells you no, and there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "I've spoken a lot already about my dad. My mom and dad were the biggest influences in my life. No one supported my athletic career more than he did. I got drafted to play baseball on June 8, 2010. The next night, my dad passed away. We knew it was coming—my dad had diabetes, and he was really sick—but I'll never forget, I'm standing with my mom in the hallway and the doctors come and they say, 'Do you want to go back in the room?' We said, 'You know, we'll stay out here for another 15 minutes or so.' So we keep standing there just talking, and suddenly we have this feeling of God coming between us, and we both think, 'You know what? We need to go back into the room.' Before I walk through the door, I can see the EKG moving just fine. I take one step into the door and say, 'Dad, I'm here.' The line goes flat.
"I miss my dad every single day. People have asked me if I had five more minutes with him, what would I say to him? But I wouldn't say anything at all. I'd just hug him. That's what I'd do. Because that's the kind of relationship my dad and I had. He gave me so much. Maybe most of all, he gave me the gift of perspective. Losing him was hard, but thinking about him now, I don't feel sad. I feel blessed. I feel blessed for all the days we got together. I feel blessed because I know he's in a better place. And I feel blessed knowing that if he were here today, the thing that he'd most be proud of isn't a Super Bowl ring or a new contract or a big speech at Camp Randall. He'd be proud of my family—what a strong woman my mom is, about my brother and how well he's doing, about the amazing, amazing young woman my sister has become. That's what he'd be proud of. So that's my third charge to the graduates. And maybe, maybe it's the hardest one of them all. When life tells you no, find a way to keep things in perspective. That doesn't make the painful moments any less painful. But it does mean you don't have to live forever in the pain. You don't have to live forever in that no. Because if you know what you're capable of, if you're always prepared, and you keep things in perspective, then life has a way of turning a no into yes."
After more than 17 minutes, with hail falling on the graduates, Wilson joked, "I'll get done in second here," before wrapping things up with a final message: "So, on Wisconsin. I would say good luck, but I don't believe in good luck. Go make it happen. This is my story. Now it's time to write your own. Congratulations to the class of 2016. I'm out."
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played one year of football for the Badgers, delivered the graduation commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin this past weekend.