Geno to grads: 'You are living the greatest time of your life'
Geno Auriemma sure looked the part the other day, standing on the floor of Gampel Pavilion wearing a graduation gown. Under normal circumstances, he would be the man delivering the graduation speech to UConn's Class of 2020.
But then, if Geno's wisdom has taught us nothing else, sometimes it's good in life to zig when the others zag. This scene, captured on Twitter, so perfectly reflected this new abnormal. And so in the eerie silence of Gampel, an arena we've all heard berserk, bonkers and booming over the years, here was Geno not merely issuing a graduation speech to the Class of 2020, but a life speech for all of us to ponder and — hopefully — absorb.
This man who has entertained us during postgames and on podiums with extended soliloquies, streams of consciousness and utter hilarity, has never been better than the following 4 minutes, 27 seconds.
"I'm sure you've heard about how you're going to change the world and how the other generations before you were impactful. How you are going to do great things. All the things you hear at graduation speeches. So this is not really a graduation speech. This is something I would say if you were standing right in front of me, stuff that I would say to my players and my kids.
"This is your defining moment. Each generation has a defining moment. That generation had The War. Mine had Vietnam. Then another had 9-11. Now this is your time. This will define your generation. Everybody is looking for answers and maybe you get to provide them. Maybe somebody in this class comes up with the answers so these things happening now won't happen again.
"This will be your defining moment. You can tell your kids and grandkids, 'you won't believe this, but I missed my graduation.' Why? 'Let me tell you.' And then you can tell them 'this is what I did in that time.' What did I do? 'I sat home in my pajamas.'
Or maybe ... 'I started to figure things out, like what can I do to make it better? For who? Me? No, you can't make it better for you unless you work out more, or take piano lessons or learn how to play chess. No, you're gonna make it better for the other people that depend on you or that you depend on.'
"I'm going to read something to you. I got this from one of my players. She's not even here yet. She'll be here in the fall. So this is a senior in high school. I had posed the question about how now you've got to tone it down with today's kids because they're not able to handle the things that basketball coaches, teachers and parents do and say.
"Here's what she said: 'I feel like today, we always hear stories about how our grandparents and even our parents had a harder life than us. I think in some ways they want it to be better for us by providing us with things they didn't have growing up. Toning it down with today's kids sounds like what coaches say and people around society feel: that we are too soft because of how we were raised. And that the things that make us comfortable actually disable us.'
"In a roundabout way, you know what she's saying? This is an uncomfortable time. These are uncomfortable things that have to be done right now. You are living in uncomfortable times. In some sense, you are living in the greatest time of your life. It's great to be uncomfortable. Because that's when you find out just how great you can really be.
"So good luck, best wishes, stay healthy, be a great teammate and congrats on being a University of Connecticut graduate for the class of 2020."
It applies to high school kids, too. College kids. But then it applies to me, too. You. All of us. Geno illustrated all over again that in simplicity — in words and in life — there is poetry.
Things that make us comfortable disable us. Because they make us disconnect from the world and fixate on ourselves. This new time of discomfort actually encourages us to think about others, if for no other reason than self-improvement during a pandemic is inconsequential, unless, as he says, you learn how to play chess.
Then he tells us being uncomfortable is actually the path to the self-improvement we actually seek. Think about that. Discomfort begets self-awareness. Which begets inner strength. Geno's words echo the great author Brene Brown, who once said, "I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our butts kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time."
Geno stood in an arena and encouraged all of us to get in the arena. To embrace discomfort. And to use it channeling the courage to help others, which ultimately helps ourselves.
He still hasn't lost his fastball all these years later.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro