DURHAM, N.C. — In his 36 years as the men’s head basketball coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski has delivered countless motivational speeches to his players.
On a cloudless, cool May Sunday morning, Krzyzewski was again exhorting Duke students — reminding them that attitude, belief, preparation and execution are the keys to being a part of a successful team.
This time, his words were directed at Duke’s Class of 2016 during the university’s 164th commencement ceremonies.
“There’s nothing more important than attitude, and it’s your choice,” he said, according to the Duke University News Service.
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead presided over the ceremony, which awarded more than 5,300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees before a stadium packed with cheering family and friends.
The ceremony also marked the return of commencement to Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Last year’s ceremony was moved to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park downtown because of renovations to Duke’s football stadium. The improvements to the football stadium are still ongoing.
Krzyzewski, who has led the Blue Devils to five NCAA championships, said it was the first time he had spoken at a graduation.
“I’ve been asked really about 100 times to speak at graduations around the country and I saved myself for you. … I’ve dreamed of this day, just like you’ve dreamed of this day, and it’s an honor,” he said.
Krzyzewski spoke about his mother, who advised him on the day before he started high school to get on the right bus. He told her he knew how to get to school, but she responded, “Tomorrow you’re going to meet new people. You’re going to get on a different journey. And the bus that you drive, make sure it’s the right one. Make sure you let only good people on it. … Good people will make you better.”
As an extension of that advice, Krzyzewski said he has no rules for his basketball teams, only standards, which include “communication, we’re going to look each other in the eye, we’re going to tell each other the truth, we’re going to have each other’s back, … we’re going to be enthusiastic, we’re going to win and lose together.”
He reminded the graduates that they will be knocked down from time to time, “but failure or any kind of setback is not a destination. … There was something good about being knocked down as long as it wasn’t your destination.”
Earlier in the program, student speaker Shannon Beckham sounded a similar theme, urging her classmates to not only be great, but to also be good people.
“My hope is that we don’t forget the importance of our experiences here, because they will build our characters more than our resumes,” said Beckham, a public policy major from Arizona.