QB Alex Smith offers advice to Utah graduates

[Publisher’s note: Edited to add video of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith’s commencement speech, as posted online Friday afternoon by the University of Utah]


Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith delivered the commencement address Thursday night to the 2014 graduating class at his alma mater, the University of Utah.

Prior to the speech, Smith received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. The evening included an audible “Go Chiefs!” cheer when the university president, David Pershing, formally introduced Smith to the graduating class.

Here is the full transcript of Smith’s speech, which lasted approximately 17 minutes:

[Publisher’s note: The below is a transcript based on a recording of Smith’s speech, which was live streamed online by the University of Utah.]


January 26, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Team Rice quarterback Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs (11) throws a pass during the 2014 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
January 26, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Team Rice quarterback Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs (11) throws a pass during the 2014 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“I am so honored to be back on campus at this incredible university on such an important day for all of you, your families and loved ones, so thank you for having me.

“President Pershing and the entire board of trustees, thank you for allowing me to speak today and thank you for recognizing me with an honorary doctorate. I was thinking this upcoming season with such a common last name like Smith, that I might actually put Dr. Smith on the back of my jersey.

“But more importantly I can now prescribe advice to you because I’m a doctor.

“It’s been almost 10 years to the day that I graduated from the U and I’ve had many ups and downs over the course of that time. There’s really three concepts that I learned to rely on over those years. They are: 1. Identify my weaknesses 2. Embrace the new 3. Letting go what I cannot control.

“When I graduated from Utah, I was heading into the biggest job interview of my life – the NFL Draft. As you can imagine, I wanted so badly to impress. I wanted to be perfect. I tried to be the perfect draft prospect. In my meetings with the coaches and executives, I tried to be the perfect interview. At the (NFL Scouting) Combine and at my workouts, I tried to be the perfect player.

“I tried to promote my strengths and conceal my weaknesses, and on paper I kind of succeeded. I was the first pick in the draft. And with that, I inherited this big shiny trophy that I carried around that had one word engraved on it, and that was ‘anxiety.’

“You see the problem was – and this is the point – I felt like I had to perfect to justify my draft status. I became my own worst enemy. I constantly stressed for other’s approval and worried about what they were thinking. I felt like I couldn’t make even the smallest of mistakes. And then when I did make a mistake, I agonized over it.

“This became a paralyzing cycle. I became cautious. I was tentative. My entire mindset became, ‘Don’t screw up.’ Literally I would tell myself, ‘Don’t screw up. Don’t throw an incompletion. Don’t throw an interception. Don’t fumble. Don’t jump the snap. Don’t line up under the guard.’ That is what I would tell myself.

“I was young, and I let my insecurities and own self-doubt get the best of me. I worried about other’s approval. The result was I was stressed, I was exhausted and I was full of anxiety. And most importantly, I was completely unproductive.

“My first prescription: We are not running for most popular; instead I encourage you all to run for most respected, unless (former Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis is chasing you. Then I encourage you to run for your life.

“I recently had the opportunity to hang out with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. For those of you who don’t know Georges, he’s a world-class mixed martial artist. Some would even regard him as maybe the best ever. And after getting to spend some time with him, one thing really stuck with me.

“It was how much time Georges and his team spent evaluating his own weaknesses. I’d always imagined that they’d spend all their time and energy focusing on their next opponent, a lot like we do in football. Instead, Georges spends his time targeting his own weaknesses. He isn’t insecure about his abilities or who he is. Instead, he’s honest with himself and he embraces the challenge of his own shortcomings.

“This is a direct quote from Georges: ‘I always train with better wrestlers than me, better boxers than me, better jiu-jitsu guys than me. When you train with people who are better than you, it keeps challenging you. By challenging me, it makes me better.’

“Failures and setbacks are inevitable for all of us. I encourage you to embrace the challenge of your own imperfection. Embrace your journey towards your own potential. It wasn’t until I stopped worrying about my own validation and finally refocused on things I could actually change that I finally grew as a person and a professional.

“And speaking of growing, my parents, our parents can be some of the best coaches of our lives. In fact, let’s all take this moment now to thank our parents and family members who have helped us be here today.

“OK, now that we’ve had that nice moment I can now tell you how my dad traumatized me my senior year of high school. He was the master of making me embrace the new. You see, when I was in high school, my dad also happened to be my principal.

“And one of the perks of my dad-principal was that he got to make my schedule. So my senior year when all my buddies had one or two classes and spent half their time off campus hanging out having fun, I had a completely full schedule. And one of the classes he signed me up for was competitive speech.

“Now next to snakes and heights, public speaking was pretty much one of my biggest fears. I was literally more comfortable throwing passes on third down than I was getting up in front of people, but he made me do it. I had to embrace the new and I’m glad I did because little did I know 15 years later here I am speaking to all of you.

“On a side note, he’d also sign me up for these rotary speech competitions. And part of the criteria for these competitions was that it had to be in an original oratory, meaning you had to write the speech as well as give it. And funny story – true story – the topic of my speech was overpaid professional athletes.

“I can remember well coming up to Utah, to the U for the first time, and everything was new. I can remember moving into the dorms and same thing, brand new experience. I remember well going up to the Heritage Center for the first time and eating, and same thing – didn’t know a soul. Mind you, this was pre-smartphone era, so I couldn’t do the old pull my phone out and pretend like I had all this stuff going on.

“So you look up and I realized that everybody else was feeling the exact same way. We were an entire room full of new, and I just needed to have the courage to get up and walk across the room and make a connection. Because there’s one thing that’s certain in life – there will always be cycles of new.

“First dates are new. Job interviews are new. Grad school is new. Marriage and parenting is new. Having seven offensive coordinators in seven years is new. We can never fully plan our future, so don’t try. And how many of you graduates know what you want to do today for the rest of your lives? I know I didn’t when I got my diploma, and that’s really OK.

Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) on his sidelines late in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) on his sidelines late in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

“I encourage you all to embrace what life throws at you, no matter how uncomfortable or daunting it might seem. Let’s all have the courage to walk across the room and make a connection.

“And speaking of seven offensive coordinators in seven years, I really have had the opportunity to play for some extraordinary coaches. None better than my coach here at the U, Urban Meyer.

“Now coach Meyer used to always tell us this: ‘If what you want is different than what you have, then you need to change what you are doing.’ Let me say that again. If what you want is different than what you have, then you need to change what you are doing.

“Coach used to say that right before he’d ask us to do something really crazy, but he was right. If we wanted to be – I don’t know – the first school to break down the BCS, we couldn’t keep doing the same old thing. It’s something that’s really helped me over the years. It’s actual something I tell myself every time that little voice in my head tries to get me to take the easy way out.

“My second prescription: Embrace the new no matter how uncomfortable and make it work for you.

“Honestly, when President Pershing and the university called me up and asked me to give the commencement address, my first reaction was absolutely not, no way. Why would I want to subject myself to something I fear so much, public speaking? But thanks to my dad-principal, this is no longer new to me and that’s the funny thing.

“When we embrace the new, we tend to conquer our fears. I told you that one of my fears is public speaking, but you want to know what one of my worst fears was and it actually came true. I could tell you guys about it, but honestly it would be better if I could show you.

“If everybody could please stand, please stand up. You guys are going to have to trust me here. Breaking the mold. Now on the count of 3, I want you guys to all boo me as loud as you can, even you folks behind me and in the orchestra, it will make it feel like a stadium. Now I want you to really boo me. Pretend I’m (Brigham Young University coach) Bronco Mendenhall or what’s their QB’s name? Taysom Hill.

“Now don’t do it yet, I’m going to count to 3, and then we’ll start. And then when I go like this (makes motion across his body), stop, OK? Have fun with it, OK? Yell out some of your other favorite QB names, I don’t know, a (Denver Broncos QB Peyton) Manning, a (New England Patriots QB Tom) Brady. You’re feeling really creative, a (San Francisco 49ers QB Colin) Kaepernick.

“You guys over here (points to the crowd on his right), I want you guys to yell out, ‘You’re a bust!’ as loud as you can, OK? And you guys over here (points to his left), I want you to yell out, ‘You ruined my Fantasy Football team!’

“OK, are we ready? Here we go. 1, 2, 3, go (a chorus of boos resonate throughout the assembly area for approximately 22 seconds).

“OK, and stop (waving hand across his body). That was good, you guys can all sit. Thank you. That went better than I expected. You guys are good at that. You guys over here with the, ‘You’re a bust,’ that’s good, but really point at the person when you’re saying it, it gives it more direction.

“All jokes aside, that really happened except times it by about 10. Imagine 80,000 people tearing you apart and the heartbreak is this was a home game. These were the very same people I was trying so hard to impress. You see, in this safe setting I can control the boos because, well, that would just be awkward if you booed me off the stage at your commencement.

“But in the real world we can’t always change the boos and applause. And in one of the most challenging moments of my life, it hit me and brings me to my third prescription: Accept what you cannot control.

“We can only control how we react and we respond. And that complex, but so simple idea helped me survive. In fact, it actually gave me peace of mind. It is truly why I am here today because it was a few years later and I had thought I silenced all of those boos, I thought I silenced all of my critics, when I really got tested.

“I thought I put all of those hardships early on in my career behind me and now I was on track, so close to the success that I always dreamed of. We were in the midst of a Super Bowl year and I was playing the best football that I have ever played, and I got benched after getting a concussion.

“I was so close to the ultimate validation of my sport, the Super Bowl. And instead I watched it pass me by from the sidelines. In fact, the only time that I actually set foot on the Super Bowl field was for the coin toss because I was still technically a team captain.

“What I want you to all understand is this: We’re all going to strive for success and I hope you all achieve it. But the truth is, at some point you’re going to find yourself on the bench and you’re going to have two choices. One, you can sit and sulk, and feel sorry for yourself. Or you can accept what you cannot control, and you can refocus your energy preparing yourself for the next opportunity life brings you.

“If I had not taken my own medicine, I know I probably wouldn’t be here today. I know I would not be a Kansas City Chief and I certainly wouldn’t be a doctor. When we leave you, we all have a new season ahead of us. And in the beginning of that new season in our own unique way, we’re going to get to the field or graduate school or a new city or a new job, and we’re going to plan.

“We’re going to huddle up, we’re going to call a play, we’re going to get to the line of scrimmage and we’re going to check the defense, and then a funny thing is going to happen. Things are not going to go as we planned. In fact, I can promise you two things are going to happen. One, things will not always go as we planned. And two, how you react and respond to the boos and applause is the only thing you can control.

“So identify your weaknesses and make them strengths. Embrace the new and have the courage to walk across the room. And put your faith over your fears, they both can exist together.

“From one University of Utah graduate to another, congratulations, Class of 2014. Now give yourselves a hand.

“Now let’s all have a great season. Thank you.”