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Ravens coach John Harbaugh delivers keynote address at Stevenson graduation

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh speaks to graduates during Stevenson's commencement exercises in the university’s Greenspring Gym. The university awarded Harbaugh an honorary doctorate of humane letters. (Kevin Richardson)

Ravens coach John Harbaugh delivered a stirring keynote address and drew heavy applause during the Stevenson University graduation today at its Greenspring campus.

Harbaugh received an honorary doctorate in humane letters, the school's highest academic honor given to those who have distinguished themselves in areas such as science, government, literature, culture or society.

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For the past two years, Harbaugh was the top keynote speaker requested by the Stevenson students, faculty and staff committees that choose the keynote speaker.

"The faculty, tremendous teachers, it's a first-class academic institution," Harbaugh said during his first-ever commencement speech. "You're blessed to be here. To the class of 2015, pat yourself on the back. You did it. Tell the person next to you, 'Great job.' You're a team, right? I promise you, you will have connections to the Class of 2015, Stevenson University, for the rest of your life.

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"I promise you, you will run into them somewhere in business or in life or at weddings. You will give each other a big hug and you will not only remember this day, but all the great times and all the great moments you had together. This becomes who you are. Embrace it, it's very special."

Harbaugh addressed the Stevenson men's lacrosse team two years ago, prior to them winning a Division III national championship. And Stevenson hosted the Ravens at its Owings Mills campus for a pair of open training camp practices in 2012 and 2013.

A former defensive back at Miami University who coached the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII win over the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh is the only NFL coach to win at least one playoff game in six of his first seven seasons. The Ravens have won the second-most games in the league (82) since Harbaugh was hired by Steve Bisciotti in 2008 as the replacement for former coach Brian Billick.

"I remember my first day in college I was in line for football physicals, one of the newer coaches comes up to me and says, 'Priorities are very important,'" Harbaugh said. "I said, 'Yes sir.' He said, 'You got to keep your priorities in order while you're here.' I said, 'Yes sir.' He looked me square in the eye and he says, 'You always remember this, John, it's academics No. 1, football No. 2.

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"I tried to remember that. I remember being a very average player and a pretty [good] student. I had the highest grade point average on the football team. I thought that was a pretty big deal. I walked around the locker room, some of the guys, and it wasn't such a great accomplishment after all."

During his speech, Harbaugh addressed a theme of hard work, sacrifice and respect.

"You worked hard, you've overcome adversity, you've built relationships that will last a lifetime," Harbaugh said. "I hope you've had the time of your life. Now, it's time to move on. What's next? None of us gets to know that. It's not for us to know.

"What is for us to know and what is for us to do is to make the most of it, whatever it is. There are no second chances at life. There are second chances in life, thank God. This is your life, you own it. It's a gift from our Creator. What you do with it is up to you."

Harbaugh touched on several topics as the graduates move on to join the work force.

"Respect, No. 1 thing, start everything with respect," Harbaugh said. "If you want to be respected, then you must respect. Treat everybody as if they are the most important person in your career's success because in that moment they are.

"Respect experience, respect expertise. You're smart, you're motivated and you're young. Respect the job. Respect the opponent. Respect time, yours and others. Respect the job."

Harbaugh related a story of working for his father, Jack Harbaugh, at Western Michigan as an assistant coach in a game against Ohio University when a couple of holding calls went against their team.

"Respect the equipment that you're given to work with," Harbaugh said. "I learned that lesson the hard way. We're down by six points with about a minute left in the game and we're driving for the winning score and we complete a pass. I look back and there's a yellow flag flying in the air. It was holding. You gotta be kidding me. I didn't agree with the call. Does that surprise you? I shook it off. We throw another pass, complete it again, and what do we get? Holding again the second time in a row, it's a conspiracy.

"I ripped off my headsets, turned around and threw them as far as I could. They flattened out like a helicopter. They land right in front of the opposing team's band and the student section. I turn around and my dad is looking at me. He said: 'Go get 'em, the headphones.' In front of the team, the band, the student section. Sometimes, you learn lessons the hard way."

On the topic of ethics, Harbaugh said: "Be honest, you will have choices to make, dealing with clients, filling out expense reports, relating to your co-workers, relating to your customers. There will be situations where a dishonest edge can be pretty easily gained. My dad said, 'Never lie, never cheat, never steal.' The value of personal integrity, it's priceless. You can't buy it. It's earned. There's no grading scale for integrity you either score 100 percent of zero, there's no in between."

Harbaugh said he advises young coaches to be willing to do extra work to be successful.

"What else needs to be done?" Harbaugh said. "You want more responsibility. Martin Luther King said 'even if called to be a street sweeper, go out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted, like Beethoven composed.' Sweep streets like the whole host of heaven is watching because it is. I added that last part."

Harbaugh also advised graduates to be obedient, calling it a rare trait.

"Be yourself," he said. "Your road will be wonderful, but it will also be hard and tough. You will have successes, but you will also have setbacks. It's how you handle it. You have what it takes. You can do this. You are uniquely called to do your thing. You are just the person for the job.

"Maybe the truest thing I know, the days are long, but the years are short. Do you believe that? The years will fly by. We have a principle called 'stacking' on our team. You want to stack a good moment, a good meeting, a good practice, a good weightlifting session, a good day. You're either getting better, or you're getting worse. You never stay the same."

Before closing his speech with a "Go Mustangs!" yell, Harbaugh recounted his father's advice for about what it took to be a good football coach.

"He said, 'I'll tell you what my coach told me in back in 1961, he said there are three things in reverse order: No. 1 Passion, if you love what you do you can be great at what you do," Harbaugh said. "No. 2, work hard. Believe it or not, you're not going to be smarter than everybody else, but you can outwork everybody. No. 3, without question, by far the No. 1 most important thing, marry wisely.

"That's really important. I have the greatest daughter and the greatest wife in the history of the world. I pray that blessing for you as well. You've done something really special. Congratulations. Be grateful. Thank your creator every morning. There's no greater gift than the gift of life. It's an awesome thing you've been granted. Go make the most of it."

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