May 14, 2023: Commencement 2023, Remarks by Jay Wright ’83

Jay Wright speaks behind the podium on stage at Bucknell's 173rd Commencement

Celebrated basketball coach Jay Wright '83 encouraged members of the Class of 2023 to work hard, bring enthusiasm to all that they do, and approach each day with a positive attitude. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

Good morning, Bucknell! It is beautiful to be back here. What a view from here. Our graduation was in Davis Gymnasium. I never got to see this before. President Bravman, thank you for bestowing upon me the prestigious honor of addressing and celebrating the Class of 2023. Thank you for your leadership and your vision over your tenure, most significantly for guiding our beloved Bucknell through the pandemic. As Bucknellians, we're proud to see our vibrant inspirational, intellectual community thriving in the year 2023 under your leadership.

Provost Merman-Jozwiak, deans of our colleges and members of the faculty, there are very few, if any, left from my days on campus, but I have remained connected to your knowledge and wisdom through the alumni, coaches, children of my friends. And I continue to be impressed by your intellect and expertise. And I'm always grateful for how you impart that to our students with passion and a commitment to excellence.

To the parents — especially moms, grandmoms — happy Mother's Day. Aunts, uncles, grandpas, brothers, sisters, all family and friends gathered here to support these young talented people, I know many of you are proud, some of you are surprised and a few of you won't believe it until you see the diploma in hand. My parents were the latter. Congrats to you for persevering through the unique challenges in your child's journey so that they could be here today.

We celebrate you all when we talk about our Bucknell community. You are always a part of the Bucknell family. Thank you for your loyalty and your support of your students and the University.

Finally, and most importantly, the Class of 2023, on behalf of all of our alumni, thank you for persevering and enduring and making sure that Bucknell came out of the pandemic thriving and better than ever. Your determination, your resiliency and fortitude as a class will go down in history at Bucknell. I'm proud to be a part of this day with you!

I am grateful, as are all of my fellow alumni, that you have tackled all of the challenges of the pandemic. Your freshman year shortened; sophomore year a menagerie of Zooms, COVID tests, masks, COVID hotels; junior year a challenge of empathy and open mindedness to transition to normalcy. So here you are, senior year completed — we stand in awe of you, and because of you, Bucknell stands proud, vibrant and strong!

I'm sure of Bucknell's promising future because I was able to meet with senior class officers along with Kiera Black, Class of 2023, one of my fraternity brothers’ daughters. They assured me that what's important at Bucknell remains fervent and strong:

"Supers" are still well attended. Bull Run and Towny continue to thrive.

"Registers" have survived. Sigma Chi still kills it with Derby Days — they raised $184,000 for cancer research. I'm proud of our guys.

"Judgment Day" continues the deep search for truth and superiority of "uphill" or "downhill," and the truth can still be found in the mud!

For all of us here today as well as all of our alumni, Bucknell has provided so many gifts and opportunities. Being here with you today is one of them. I received an eye-opening education. I was inspired by professors Silberman and Quinlan. They were passionate about sociology and patient and gracious with me. Professor Michael Moore in economics was brilliant and motivating. Just to name a few. Our faculty was outstanding and remains that way today. My basketball coach, Charlie Woolum, was a compassionate mentor and remains a good friend to this day!

But I learned the most from my classmates. Guys named Raymo, Bo, Elvis, Funk, Doc, Cosi, Bies, Ray Barry, James Dean, Mr. Ted and Mahtin. No one went by their given names. This unique Bucknell community created an environment to live on our own and rely on our Bucknell brothers and sisters independently to succeed and fail and share our experiences. I've watched all of my classmates go on to become educators, doctors, lawyers, CEOs — they are all accomplished. But most important, they're good men and women who live their lives for others. A number of them are here today — they have to see with their own eyes that I'm actually the Commencement speaker.

I get it; because the only person more assured when I was here at Bucknell that I would never be the Commencement speaker was me. So, look around, a future Bucknell Commencement speaker is in your midst. And most importantly, it might be you!

I visited Bucknell as a senior in high school on a sunny day like this. I saw students "quad sitting" — t-shirts, shorts, laying in the sun. I played basketball with the team at luxurious Davis Gymnasium at the time. Most of the players were Kappa Sig, they took me to a delicious steak dinner at their house — down hill. We played a lot of pong; we went to Bull Run for the rest of the night. My future teammates let me sleep in the next morning — missing class — and then I met the Bucknell staff for lunch at the Bison. I walked outside of the Langone Center, took one more look at the sunny, beautiful campus and said to myself, "I'm gonna be a 'Breakin Bison.' "

That's what we were called back then, the Breakin Bison.

Notice no discussion of academics, major, concentration of studies or life after college.

Thus, my lifelong declaration: "In choosing Bucknell I made the best decision of my life for all the wrong reasons." When I stepped on campus as a freshman, it was cloudy. The classes were difficult. My classmates were valedictorians of their high schools. Pat Flannery, the former coach here, was the senior point guard; he was kicking my butt every day. Kappa Sig was shut down so no steak dinners with the team. I was so busy with academics and basketball I never got to hang out on the quad.

Academically and athletically, it was always that way for me at Bucknell. Challenges, doubts, insecurities, failures. Socially, I thrived though — I had the time of my life. But where it counts — one's ability to define your own success and failure — I was searching for answers. My main objective was just to finish.

So, if some of you feel you don't have the answers, the confidence, the plan, you have it, because you finished. Trust me, you learned it here — it’s in your challenges, your successes, your failures, and most importantly your relationships. It will become clear to you at different times in your life. It is the beauty of the Bucknell experience.

Like you I've recently completed a phase in my life and am now beginning a new chapter. Just like you are. I have been a coach my entire life. This year for the first time, I am an assistant to the president of a major university, a TV broadcaster, a board member of a global bank. I find myself in uncomfortable situations where I have the same doubts, insecurities, questions I had when I was at Bucknell. What I have learned since then is to stand on my own core values and use my own definition of success and failure.

As a Bucknell graduate, I would love to stand before you and deliver an academically, intellectually acclaimed message. But I'm a coach, and it's where I find my success and it's what I find is valued by TV audiences, academic administrators and banking executives. So, my best bet is to try to coach you up a little, and coach you like our teams at Villanova and USA Basketball.

When we leave this beautiful campus, we are all judged by the world on whether we win or lose, whether we're a success or a failure. Our most important challenge is not to measure up to the world's version of success.

Our challenge, team, is to create our own basic core values. It's time for you to define your own success and failure. This is the journey all of us make. Incorporate your Bucknell education and experiences, trust your instincts and your family values. Dare to be different, create your own path and core values that are uniquely yours.

I encourage you to avoid using social media or mainstream media to define success or as a baseline for establishing your own core values. The 19th-century American poet Henry David Thoreau gave us a quote referred to constantly inside our Villanova locker room. "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." In today's Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat we see everyone's perfectly produced moments replayed.

Our players aspire to be LeBron James — many of you have others you aspire to emulate. The images and stories we see on social media are show business, as if the celebrities have perfect lives. We respect their talent, we honor that, but we run our own race. The people in show business and influencers have desperation, failure and confusion in their lives. We cannot judge our value or our success in relation to social media.

Count your blessings, dare to be different — we embrace our journey. God has a plan for each of you. I'm not saying don’t engage in social media — hey I'm on Twitter too: @CoachJayWright. What I'm saying is — in evaluating your personal success and core values — rely on your Bucknell education, your family values, your faith.

At Villanova basketball our team had core values and we played in a way that they coincided with the way we wanted to live our lives. We have a triangle with four sections: at the bottom it says "Hard," then it says "Together," then it says "Smart," and then "Pride" at the top.

We want to play basketball every day — hard, together, smart, and with pride in the name on the front of our jerseys, not the back. For our Bucknell team and for all of us, it's important in how we live our lives. I'm asking you to consider how these core values translate to our life journey:

Hard: Work hard every day, bring enthusiasm, your best effort in everything you do. Be your best.

Together: Live your life for others. It's not always about us. Be kind and selfless.

Smart: Be a lifetime learner. Never stop growing. Always be open to new ideas.

Pride: Take pride in being a part of something bigger than yourself rather than focusing on personal glory. Pass on your knowledge to others.

On our basketball team, as well as on our life journey, we evaluate ourselves on our commitment to our core values. We're not driven by the world's definition of success and failure. But by our own commitment to our personal core values.

The world will define us as winners and losers, we must have a plan to confront that praise and criticism.

I'll share a story with you that you can relate to: When I came to Bucknell — I was a star in high school — I thought I was the next Pete Maravich. Google him. Ask your parents. I learned fast I was not the star in high school. We were going to my hometown of Philadelphia to play at St. Joe's. I had a group of friends come to watch me, and they expected me to be the star. I was sitting at the end of the bench knowing I wasn't going to play as a freshman. In the second half, they started chanting, "We Want Wright. We Want Wright." And I knew Pat Flannery was the point guard and I wasn't getting in the game. But in the second half, they kept getting louder and louder, and toward the end they kept chanting, "We Want Wright. We Want Wright." And I saw Coach Woolum, our coach, start to walk at me and look at me at the end of the bench, and I thought, "This might work." As he started walking toward me, he yelled, "Hey, Wright" — and I stood up and ripped off my warm-up — "Go up there and see what they want."

I failed. I wasn't good enough. I was embarrassed. I'm sure everyone here today has a story like this. Maybe an academic failure, a breakup in a relationship, maybe you missed the cut for a part in a play or a position went to someone else that you thought was yours.

The one thing I can guarantee you is we all will fail. Failure is part of our journey. Failure is an opportunity. It never gets comfortable, but it's a great opportunity to control your response. This is our plan for life's journey to confront the criticism and the failures. Our controlled response is our attitude!

Your attitude is your greatest characteristic. This has been the cornerstone of Villanova basketball. You don't control innate intelligence, your size, your good looks or your God-given talents. What you do control is your attitude. We can all have a positive attitude. It's a choice we have everyday when we wake up. It gives us the courage to never fear failure. If we do fail, we have an opportunity to display and express our positive attitude and inspire others. We don't control what happens to us in life — we do control our attitude!

There are a lot of great books about overcoming failure, or overcoming challenges, because it's such a big part of our life. One of my favorite books is The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. The premise of the book is that we make goals and have aspirations in life and inevitably we're confronted with obstacles that prevent us from achieving our initial goal. The obstacle then becomes our way of creating a gauge to evaluate our own personal success.

Class of 2023, you have already exhibited the attitude necessary for attacking the journey of life. Your aspiration for a successful college career certainly did not include going home freshmen year and staying in COVID hotels sophomore year. COVID became the obstacle. You attacked it by choosing a positive attitude. You've defined your own success and you inspired all of us in the process.

Very rarely do we find books about how to handle success. There's not a big market for that. But you all are talented. You're going to follow core values. You're going to have a strong work ethic. You live for others. You're lifetime learners and you cherish being a part of this community. You will enjoy success.

Our 2016 and 2018 National Championship teams huddled in the solace of our locker room after the game. We were grateful to God. We knew we didn't have control of the outcome, only our effort and attitude. We talked about The Stonecutter, a poem by Jacob A. Riis.

"I look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."

We always remind ourselves with any success comes the humility of knowing all the sacrifice and work that came before. We want to be humble in success and share it with everyone no matter how small their part. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are humble and those who are about to be!

We want to always remain humble and hungry to continue to grow and improve. Humble and hungry is our plan to confront the self-aggrandizing that comes with success.

Look around you today. Look at your parents, professors and friends who helped you tap the rock to see it split into two today. Take the time today to be humble and acknowledge that they were working alongside you each step of the way. Remain humble today and hungry for new opportunities as you take on the world.

As I conclude, I want to send you out like a team: Bucknell Bison taking on the world.

Don't let the world tell you what's right.

Trust your education, your family values, your faith and your own instincts.

Compete hard always. Be your best. Compete together with others. Be a lifetime learner open to new ideas. Compete with pride in those you represent and those who belong to you!

Enjoy success. Share it with others. Be humble and hungry to continue to improve and grow.

With these core values attack each day with a great attitude. Don't fear failure. Accept your destiny. I promise it will be glorious, because win or lose you're going to attack the next day with a great attitude.

Keep your eyes on the future — it's so bright for you Bucknellians. Value the precious present as you approach each day with a positive attitude.

Never forget where you came from. You are your family's pride and joy!

You are a Bucknell Bison!

You are Bucknell University's gift to the world.

You make me proud to be a Bucknell Bison. 'ray Bucknell!