Legendary track and field superstar Carl Lewis delivered an inspiring commencement address to the class of 2020. The 10-time Olympic winner, who has won nine gold medals, transformed the sport with his record-breaking performances.
In his address, Lewis – a UH alum and currently an assistant track and field coach – explained how he made the, then amateur, sport a professional one in his quest for financial success. He offered the newly minted alumni enduring words of advice. Following are some excerpts that resonate for graduates, aspiring athletes and readers alike.
Push to Change the System
“You have to have the full package if you want to have success.... When I finished my tenure here at the University, I went out and said, ‘We’re going to have to change things if we’re going to become what you want to be.’ So, I said, ‘If you want to be a millionaire, you have to find a way to make money.’
We were an amateur sport, and no one made money. Now, all of a sudden, I had to figure out a way to change it. I started pushing with people to make our sport professional. And it was a difficult thing.
It was determination and pushing because, you know, when you want to change a system, most people like the system the way it is. I had to go out there and say, ‘No, we want to change it and make it better for the athletes and better for the student athletes. Give them hope that there’s something beyond college that’s not just their job, but to have a career like professional basketball and baseball.’
Those were my models. I looked at people, like Billie Jean King, who was such a pioneer in what she did for women’s tennis and women’s sports. Curt Flood, the guy who sued for free agency. These are people that were role models to me of how to change things, but I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t spend the time in class learning the things that I needed to be able to present myself.”
Play the Long Game
“Want it all. Want to be the best; want to have the best time; want to meet the best people. Want it all, because if life was easy, everybody’d be good at it. It’s a challenge. It’s tough. It’s difficult, but it’s there for those who want to take on that challenge, and they can beat it.
So, this is the question I ask every single recruit that I go to, and I’m going to ask you this. We sit down in 23 or 20 years, whatever it is for you, and we meet again.
And you’re going to take me to lunch because you’ve been successful, and I’m old. And we’re going to sit down, and I’m going to ask you, ‘Son, I haven’t seen you in 10 or 15 years,’ or young lady, ‘Tell me what you’ve done. I’m not asking you to think what you want to do. Tell me what you have done.’
The reason I came up with that question is because when I said that I wanted to be a millionaire and I wanted to jump 29 feet, every single day of my life became important.
When I jumped 27, 26, it wasn’t, ‘Congratulations for a record.’ It was, ‘I’m closer to 29 feet.’
When we got track and field changed to professional, it wasn’t, ‘We’re professional now.’ It was, ‘Now, I can set my goal.’
So put that 40-year plan there, and then let’s sit down and have lunch in a few years and talk about it.
Good luck, and go out there and take on the world, Coogs.”