Spring 2018 Commencement Address

Brandon Brooks '11
May 19, 2018

Thank you, President Crawford, for that very kind introduction and warm welcome. I am honored and humbled to be here today. This university has meant a great deal to me. It helped mold me—intellectually, socially, and morally. 

I am here today as a proud alum who continues to pursue my education towards my MBA and continues my life-long quest for excellence in all my endeavors that was instilled and nurtured here at Miami. 

I also just happen to be a NFL pro-bowler and a member of the 2018 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, the team that wasn’t supposed to win the Super Bowl. 

The story of the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles and our improbable march to victory on Super Bowl Sunday is a story of love and honor, perseverance, unity, and a lesson for all you graduates who are forced to face an onslaught of naysayers who keep trying to stamp out your dreams. 

Dream big, I say. We in Philadelphia did. 

My dreams were nurtured by my family and made a reality here at Miami. My goal and my family’s dream was for me to graduate with a degree from this prestigious academic institution. Anything else after that was just gravy. 

We learned the concept of “Love and Honor” here at Miami. It surrounds you from the first day you arrive on campus. 

It is the essence of college life here and it is what Miami instills in you and what you leave with when you go out into the world and seek to achieve excellence in any and all of your endeavors. 

Love and honor, perseverance, and unity is the story of my life—growing up in Milwaukee, coming to Miami, concentrating on my academics while playing football, getting drafted into the NFL, and returning today as your commencement speaker. 

With your family at your side and the whole Miami community behind you—rooting for you—it should be your story, too, as you move out into the world and realize your own dreams. 

I’ve been in your shoes. I know the trials and tribulations of college life, trying to juggle academics, sports, a social life, trying to fit in, and questioning if you’re working hard enough and will it pay off in the end. 

Of course, the big question is always what does the future hold, where am I heading? 

I know from personal as well as professional experience that while you may not know at that very moment, there’s always something inside that keeps telling you you’re heading in the right direction, and to keep going, to keep persevering. 

On this journey, you must love yourselves and those who journey with you and seek unity among friend and foe alike, especially during these difficult times of division and strife within our nation.

Far too often racially insensitive incidents go unnoticed because bias and discrimination sadly are part of American society.

Recently, there were two blatantly offensive racial incidents that were so egregious that students here at this university stood up and protested. And I applaud those who had the courage to take a stand against hatred and intolerance. Your cries of protest were not unheard; they were heard loud and clear.

I also want to applaud President Crawford for taking action and his strong stance against these acts of hate and intolerance. 

Regardless of our differences, and our quarrels as families often do, we must stand together as a nation because while we all disagree on many things, we all agree on the basic American principals of fairness, equality, love of country, love of family, and the freedom to practice the religion of our choice. 

I was raised and surrounded by love. I was taught to honor those around me who nurtured and cared for me. I was taught to honor myself by being proud of who I am and being the best I could and to make others proud of me. 

I took being the “best” very seriously—too seriously, in fact. I demanded excellence of myself. I demanded perfection—no mistakes, no screw ups. 

I wanted to epitomize perfection. I did not make mistakes—until I did. And when that happens, the world is not a good place for me. 

I had a secret. I needed help. I grew up thinking you had to man-up—suck it up as they say. Boy, did I learn the hard way. 

I don’t know how many of you know, but I have an anxiety disorder. I demand perfection from myself. 

When I fail, when I am not the super human I’m supposed to be, my body and mind turn on me, where I get tremendously ill for hours and can’t play the sport I love. I missed 5 NFL games over my career because I couldn’t handle not being perfect. 

I came to a crossroads where I had to make a decision. I would either cave under the pressure or get help, persevere, and rise to the occasion. I chose the latter because there are no diamonds without pressure. 

Getting help by seeing a therapist was the best thing for me and for those out there going through something you can’t handle yourself, never be afraid to ask and get the help you need. 

I am proud of a number of accomplishments I achieved this year, Pro-Bowl, Super Bowl, but I am especially proud of defeating the anxiety that has affected me in the past. 

Truth be told, today, I’m feeling a little anxious, but I’ve learned through therapy to not worry or care about making a mistake. Why? Because the best thing about life is that it goes on. 

How many times have you thought the worst of a situation and how often has that worse case scenario ever come to fruition. Rarely. 

We’re all allowed to make mistakes, to be imperfect, to be human. Learn that now, listen to someone who knows. Learn from your mistakes, keep pushing, trust yourself and the process. 

Let me fill you in on one of my secrets. It’s called the law of averages. Let me explain. Say you’re an 8 out of 10 player. Some days you’ll be 10 out of 10.  But dammit, some days you’ll be 6 out of 10. I strive to be a consistent 10 out of 10 but also have to come to grips that no one is perfect and some days you’re going to be off. We all have those days. 

There have been many doubters in my life—those who dismissed me athletically or questioned my commitment to academics—not thinking that one day I pursue my MBA while also playing in the NFL. Yet there is one person who never doubted me, never wavered on any front. She inspired me. Encouraged me. Nurtured me. Motivated me and drove me all over the place. And regardless of any athletic abilities I had or didn’t have, education—my education—was my mother’s priority. 

I remember it like it was yesterday. “I don’t care how many guys they have in the NFL, or how many times they play on national TV. You’re there to get into those books. You’re there to get an education. I would hate to have to show up on that campus and embarrass you, but I will.” 

My mother, Dorothy Brooks, she is my strength, my soul, my compass. Don’t let anyone ever tell you for a moment that women are the weaker sex. That’s fake news, absolute fake news. 

I would also like to ask all the parents, guardians, and loves ones who pushed, prodded, paid for and whatever else it took to get all of these graduates here today, to please stand with my mother and be recognized for all your love and honor and your own perseverance and family unity. 

Please stand. Today is as much about you as it is about all these graduates. Without you they would not be here today. Thank you. Thank you all. 

The notions of love and honor go hand in hand. I saw it with my own family. I saw it with my teammates here at Miami. And I saw it with the Eagles. 

I’ve never been around a group of men closer, ever, in my life at any sport. They care about each other, they stand up for each other, back each other up on and off the field, and pick each other up when we fall, when we fail. 

Regardless of race, religion or background, we are a blood family. In good times and in bad. We are blood brothers. 

After we won the Super Bowl, the people of Philadelphia gave us a huge parade, very Philly style. We ended the parade at the top of the “Rocky” steps, with the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art behind us, where each of us said a few words looking out on the masses of people who came to celebrate the true meaning of persevering, year after year after year, until finally—success! 

Jason Kelce—my brother, the center of our team, the guy who plays to the left of me—gave a speech that was somewhat loud, very emotional, a little edgy, and some would say a little on the wild side—just Kelce being Kelce—but it was also very memorable.  

Kelce’s speech epitomized the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles and our Super Bowl season. It came from his heart. It spoke to the heart of our team. It spoke to our diversity, our strength as a team that stood together in good times and bad. 

It spoke to our individual weaknesses that were overcome by our teammates’ willingness to shore each other up and offer encouragement and help when we couldn’t do it alone. It spoke to our brotherhood—our belief in the notion that I am my brother’s keeper and the weigh of my brother is not too heavy for me to bare. 

The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles were under a constant barrage of negativity from doubters and naysayers—game after game after game—but we trusted in ourselves and in each other. And like the rose that pushes its way through concrete to overcome what appeared to be impossible, we attained what seemed impossible and made it reality. 

The individuals who make up the 2018 Super Bowl Champion Eagles are a truly amazing group of individuals who happen to play together on the same team. 

Malcolm Jenkins is one of the most authentic, passionate and compassionate people I know. He is one of our team leaders. 

Before every game, Malcolm huddles us together and in unison we chant, “We are all we got, and we are all we need.” He leads us and inspires us. 

Malcolm Jenkins also inspires us off the field. He is a leading proponent for criminal justice reform and equal protection under the law. He is leading a national discussion on how to best reform the system and assist formerly incarcerated people and help them re-enter society. 

It’s not easy speaking up about social injustice and inequality in America. But you must; we all must. It takes courage because there can be consequences. 

Miami taught us all the meaning of love and honor, and you are now all part of that tradition and are called to abide by it. 

Whether you agree or disagree with Colin Kaepernick’s opinions and actions, he cares deeply about America and loves our country as much as any of us. But he is paying a price for his love of America and for expressing his beliefs.

Chris Long—the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, a white son of privilege and affluence, another NFL pro-bowler—didn’t have to wrap his arm around Malcolm Jenkins when Malcolm raised his fist during the playing of our national anthem to protest racial inequality in America. 

Afterward, Chris Long quietly said, “I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality.” 

Chris Long has been giving back to his community since he first came into the NFL. He gave up his salary last year to help kids in his hometown of Charlottesville because actions speak louder than words and because Chris is committed to making the world a better place. 

Then there’s Nick Foles and Carson Wentz, two top competing quarterbacks who are both tremendously committed to their faiths and two of the kindest and most considerate people you’ll meet. 

It was my job to make them both look good. One is a former starter, still in his prime, who, game after game, stood on the sidelines giving Carson constant encouragement, only to have roles reversed late in the season when Carson was sidelined with an injury and Nick took over. 

I’ll never forget the image of those two standing together, holding up the Lombardi trophy the night we won the Super Bowl. That’s love. That’s honor. That’s perseverance. And that’s unity! 

Professional athletes, all competing and fighting for their jobs. We have a saying in the NFL—our careers are like a car’s side view mirror that reads “things are closer than they appear"—meaning the guy behind you is fighting to get your job just as hard as you are fighting to keep it. 

Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, Nick Foles, Carson Wentz are all role models to be emulated, not for their athletic prowess and the financial wealth it brings, but rather for their altruism, for their caring and compassion for the oppressed and those less fortunate among us. 

These are all life lessons. Working hard and standing together, backing up your colleagues in spite of the competition for the same job or the spotlight, team unity coupled with the quest for excellence and success in whatever path you chose. It all pays off—with love and honor, perseverance, and unity. 

Love and honor go hand in hand. I first learned that here at Miami. Commitment to love and honor builds character, strength, and the willpower to endure and keep going in spite of the obstacles you encounter along with way. 

Sometimes it’s hard being different—being one among so many that are not like you. It can be isolating, fearful, lonely at times. Miami Ohio is an overwhelmingly white university. It’s hard for minority students. There’s no denying that. 

Most people don’t realize it , but all any of us really want, regardless of the color of our skin, is to be accepted for who we are. To be appreciated and recognized for our character and our journeys to this place. 

We all have different paths, some easier than others. Whether you’re a newcomer to America, a person of color, or a woman in a male-power dominated world or if you’re disabled or LGBTQ— we’re always struggling to be accepted and to be recognized as an equal and treated as a contributing member of society. 

Acceptance, real or perceived, wasn’t easy at first for me at Miami. But one man went out of his way to ease my early journey here. 

James Carsey. Didn’t matter if you were first stringer or walk-on, hurt or healthy, freshman or senior, black, white, Hispanic, big or small, man or woman—Coach Carsey was there to help. He was tough on you—very tough—but as much as James loved Miami and his job, he was known for helping and giving advice to so many athletes, in all sports. He had a heart of gold. That will never be forgotten. 

He was always there for me—and others—with a kind word , back then or even now. He’s a good man. A good soul. Someone I try to emulate everyday by treating others the way he treated me. Teaching me through his actions, a clear demonstration of the meaning of love and honor. Thank you, Coach Carsey. 

Perseverance is crucial to success, if not survival. Most of today’s graduates know what I’m talking about. 

How many times did things get so bad that you felt like quitting, giving up? But somewhere, somehow, you found the will, the character, the strength to keep going. The strength to pick yourself back up again. 

Now we’re not talking about picking yourself up the day after you’ve been out partying all night. That’s a different kind of picking yourself up. I understand that. And just to be clear, I’m not making any judgements here—just saying. 

I learned perseverance from my family, but it was embraced and enhanced here at Miami. You go from trying to fit in to trying to stand out. 

My family’s story is one of perseverance, of struggle and sacrifice, all benefitting the next generation—me. 

My story is an American story, not unlike most American families that struggle every day. Not unlike many of you sitting in the audience today. 

For most Americans—white or people of color, women especially, immigrants or native-born— economic gains do not come easy. 

Americans as a whole struggle from week to week, paycheck to paycheck. Many are not even that fortunate. Many don’t have regular weekly paychecks. 

In spite, America is still a land of opportunity, where everyone, if willing to work hard and persevere, should be given equal access to opportunity, regardless if you’re female, male, transgender, a person of color or white, disabled, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, or even if you’re questioning your identify or gender. 

Access to equal opportunity is a basic American right, and embracing it and nurturing it is what will make America greater than we already are. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech 55 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

Sadly, many in this nation are still being judged by the color of their skin rather than by the content of their character. 

This judgement—based on skin color, on gender, or sexual orientation, on birth status—denies many the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that many others in America take for granted. 

Our country’s future depends upon your willingness to take a stand for equality and ensure our nation lives up to it’s promise and it’s potential. 

That’s the greatness of America, and it’s your responsibility to nurture that greatness, protect that greatness, and make it a reality, so that 55 years from today Dr. King’s words will ring true and my children and your children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 

All of you—graduates as well as family members and those here in positions of power and influence—must demand equal opportunity and look out for and help those less fortunate among us because that too is a basic American value. 

A few years back, I remember overhearing people whisper, “We’ll never survive Obama.” We did. Now, I hear people yelling, “We’ll never survive Donald Trump.” We will. 

This is America. We are the greatest nation in the world. Our diversity and our differences of opinion, style, culture, attitude and whatever else stirs us up and makes this crazy democracy work as a nation - is our greatest strength. 

So relax. We’re not perfect; we make mistakes. We’ll be OK; you’ll be OK. Just love and honor your neighbor and those closest to you. 

Persevere, work hard, and keep fighting for what you believe. And remember, we’re all in this together and we’re all trying our best to do what we think is right because we all love America—and Miami University.