I was asked to speak at my school’s end-of-the-year athletics’ banquet for student-athletes and their families. I had about a week’s notice to write this, but honestly, I think I put more of myself into it than I did for all my college essays combined–probably because I knew that my audience included people I actually know, interact with, and/or care about.
To give credit where credit is due, thanks to Katie for editing this for me. It would have been a jumbled, disjointed, and probably (okay…definitely) rather weird speech without her awesome red pen-slasher skills. Additionally, thanks to the athletics booster organization for allowing me the opportunity to speak. I truly enjoyed the process of reflecting on the past four years, as well as the process of writing itself. I never considered myself and English person, but for the past year or so, I’ve started to love writing more and more. I believe that the Language and Composition I took last year–and especially our teacher, Mr. N.–is responsible for showing me the power and value of this realm and giving me the skills to utilize it. So, thank you for sharing this gift with me.
And, as one more tangent, I’d also like to add that I got freakishly nervous right before I was called up to speak (at a very visceral level, I thought I might throw up–and I rarely feel that way, even before big races): this experience definitely gave me a massive amount of appreciation for what pastors do every single week. They also have the additional burden of communicating what is literally the most subject matter in the world, not something so trivial as high school sports. So, Mr. R. and Steve and Pastor Matt and Bishop Jakes and all the other pastors in the world: thank you for being brave enough to do what you do.
But now, the speech:
As some of you know, I run cross country and track. I probably spend way too much of my life running in circles, literally. I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit it, but for me, cross country began as a purely utilitarian undertaking: I needed P.E. credits, but I was afraid of soccer balls hurtling towards my head and I thought I was too short for basketball.
I’ve always been a student first, anything and everything else second. After all, I have attended [school name] since kindergarten. And, for the most part, my study-first philosophy has served me well: I have decent grades, I’m going to college next year, and I’m coming to a point where I can enjoy learning for learning’s sake. These things notwithstanding, life as a student can be at times overwhelming, an experience to which I’m sure many of you can relate.
It’s true, exercise relieves stress. Being in athletics also promotes better time management, since the less time you have, the less time you waste. Yet, athletics have a still greater role in the life of a student. When I entered the upper school athletics program four years ago, I was a student. Since then, I haven’t become any less of a student, but I like to believe that I have grown and am growing to be more than just a student. Running has taught me about leadership, about humility, about discipline, about friendship, about patience, about having fun: it’s taught me about me.
And so, over the past four years, I’ve come to appreciate running for more than just the sake of running (or my P.E. credits). Athletics is about more than just awards or times or places or scores. It’s also more than just perseverance and motivation and hard work. Athletics is about people. It’s the teammates who encourage you, frustrate you, work with you, and compete with you; it’s the opponents who force you to do better; it’s the coaches who help you to be better. Athletics is not just the goals you score on the field or the state tournaments for which you qualify or the personal records you achieve: athletics is also the moments, both mundane and extraordinary, that you spend with your teammates and coaches—practicing endless drills on the court or getting ready for games in the locker room or rambling about life on long car rides to meets. Running has changed me, but so have the people with whom I run—perhaps to an even greater degree than running itself. It is not the running, but the people with whom I run who remind me, in both word and action, to remove my blinders and see that there is more to life than just academics or just athletics.
On your sweater vests, some of you students may still have the original [school name] crest. Here, adjacent to the symbols for arts and humanities, honor and character, and sciences and mathematics, is a winged foot, the symbol for athletics. The four symbols are neither ranked nor segregated. Rather, they are united around the Cross. Regardless of whether or not you identify yourself as a Christian, you are still more than a student, more than a musician, more than an athlete: you are a whole person. Participating in athletics is a way to bring balance to the elements of the crest—it certainly did in my life—but more important, the experiences you have through athletics will help you, even force you, to transform a fractured, disjointed set of roles into a stronger, cohesive identity.
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