Krzyzewski Urges Grads to Surround Themselves with Good Teammates
In Mike Krzyzewski’s four decades as head coach of the Duke University men’s basketball team and his three terms at the helm of the USA Basketball men’s team, he has come across his fair share of powerful people. But, delivering the commencement address for Durham Academy’s Class of 2019, he suggested that the most influential person — the one whose advice has most often reverberated in his ears — is his mother.
“Make sure that tomorrow, as you start another journey, that you get on the right bus. … the bus that you're going to be on for your whole life and you’re going to drive,” Krzyzewski recalled his mother, Emily, telling him as he prepared to begin his high school journey in inner-city Chicago, and then again as he prepared to leave for college at the U.S. Military Academy. “And when you drive that bus, only let good people on your bus. Good people will make you better. … And make sure they’re talented. Because as talented as you are, you're not going to be more talented unless you deal with talent.”
Krzyzewski addressed the 109 graduates — DA’s largest-ever graduating class — directly, facing them as they sat on the stage of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall on May 24. The winningest coach in Division I college basketball history is also the father of two DA graduates, and eight of his grandchildren attend or have graduated from the school, including one in the Class of 2019.
Krzyzewski congratulated the seniors on earning their way to universities in powerhouse Division I athletic conferences, like Purdue University and The Ohio State University in the Big Ten, and Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill in the ACC; Ivy League institutions like Princeton University and Yale University; and a variety of other top colleges and universities, like Wellesley College and the University of Southern California. In all, the graduates are headed to 62 different colleges and universities — from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and Olin College of Engineering, to Parsons School of Design and the University of Chicago — as well as a gap-year experience.
Also addressing the Class of 2019 was senior Nathan Dalva-Baird. He encouraged his classmates to use the milestone of commencement as an opportunity to take a look back and measure how they’ve grown over the years.
“Put simply, it’s hard to notice the steady kind of change. The steps that you only see when you scroll up in your camera roll and look at someone you know was once yourself, but who now seems so distant,” he said. “The leaps your great aunt saw, but you couldn’t.”
The Class of 2019 “is incredible,” Dalva-Baird said, noting that the seniors have accomplished a variety of feats, including raising more than $5,000 for Urban Ministries of Durham as a class; establishing what has become a nationally ranked Upper School Ultimate Frisbee team that has, along the way, funded a laptop program for the entire Durham Nativity School student body; and mounting impressive finishes in athletics, including a state semifinal berth for boys basketball and a second consecutive state championship for girls tennis.
“Remember that change can be soft and quiet, and it can look like everything is the same. Continue to push,” Dalva-Baird said. “We’ve each come so far over the past four years, and the past 18 years, by doing just that. There won’t always be a great aunt there to remind us how we’ve grown, so we need to acknowledge our changes and make sure each iteration is better than the last. Slow down and check in. Be happy, be proud and set the next goal.”
Krzyzewski shared a bit of wisdom gleaned from his own college experience with the graduates.
“I got knocked on my butt so much at West Point,” he said, “and I learned three very important things”: to get back up when you’re knocked down; to get involved with groups of talented people who will make you better and who will help to pick you up when you’re down; and to “be your best friend” by having confidence in yourself.
The coach also encouraged the graduates to truly own whatever team or organization they represent.
He recalled addressing the 2008 USA men’s Olympic basketball team — nicknamed the “Redeem Team” for its ultimately successful quest to reclaim gold medal glory for the nation — at the first meeting of the team prior to the Olympics: “I said, ‘In order to win that, in order to win that gold medal, you are USA Basketball. You’re not playing for — you are.’ Huge difference. ... It won’t be yours until you feel what you're doing. If you feel, where does it go? It goes right here — it goes into your heart. And if you can hear and you can see and you can feel, then you can be as good as you can possibly be.”
Krzyzewski said he sometimes leaves a piece of paper on the floor of the Duke team locker room early in the morning, just to see if one of his players picks it up over the course of the day. Usually, the paper is gone at the the end of the day, but sometimes it remains. So the next day at practice, the coach will grill his team about it.
“And so I said, 'I’ll tell you why you didn’t pick it up. It wasn’t your piece of paper. I came back later, and I picked it up. Do you know why I picked it up? Because it's my floor. And if you don't pick it up ever, it's not yours,’ ” he said. “And so as you move on to your journey — which is going to be exciting, all these amazing places — and you get knocked down, get up. Put good, talented people on your bus. Follow your heart and find your heart. And when the time comes, pick up that piece of paper.”