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Transcript of Robert Kraft's Suffolk University commencement address

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  May 20, 2013 09:33 AM

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The following is a transcript of the commencement address delivered by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at the Suffolk University College of Arts & Sciences commencement ceremony on May 19, 2013. Read more about the ceremony here.

It’s a great pleasure for me to be here today to celebrate with you all.  So I’ll say to the esteemed Suffolk University faculty and staff, honored guests, family and friends, moms and dads, grads and undergrads, good afternoon and please join me in congratulating the class of 2013. 

At this time of the year, I annually welcome our college recruits or our rookie class to the New England Patriots.  And I talk to them about the importance of their Patriot brand and how I expect them to act both on and off the field.  And because they’re representing my family as well as the Patriots brand, I express to them the importance of education and the value that we place on getting your college degree.

And in 1994, I vividly remember after giving a speech that I thought was pretty cool and inspirational, one of the young men comes up to me and says, Mr. Kraft, you really did inspire me today and I want you to know I’m going to get my degree on time no matter how many years it takes. 

Well, I just say he wouldn’t be a candidate for Suffolk admissions. 

I was flattered to receive an invitation a few months ago to give this address, and I was originally prepared to deliver a message to the graduates about dreaming big.  But the realities of last month’s event at the Boston marathon on a day that celebrated Massachusetts as Patriots Day changed that. 

In the hours, days and weeks following the blast, Boston prevailed.  We witnessed heroism and teamwork and as a result, we felt great pride and patriotism. Those evil acts united us.  We became one Boston.  We became Boston strong.  And each of you were part of that.  As a result, your education at Suffolk was punctuated with some valuable life lessons. 

In Boston, we often refer to our sports legends as heroes.  But last month on marathon Monday, on Patriots Day, we were reminded who the real heroes were.  These are the men and women who, when the bombs exploded, instinctively ran to the blast, not away from it, to help those in need.  Those heroes included many members of the Boston Police Department who were being warned that other devices would be detonated. Yet they courageously ran in to the aid of others.  They represent all that is good about Boston.  And today we are honored to join by Police Commissioner Ed Davis who led the police force and worked closely with many other agencies to coordinate the initial response, pursuit, and capture of the terrorist.  He is not here as commissioner but as a proud father to watch his daughter, Kaitlyn Davis, graduate.  Congratulations to you both.

But there’s a lesson here.  You don’t have to wait for a tragedy to occur to rush to help those in need.  The concept of first responder doesn’t have to be at a time of such dire consequences as we witnessed here last month.  Imagine if everyone applied the concept of being a first responder helping others in need to every day in your life?  Help a complete stranger.  Hold doors open for others.  Show others respect.  Make a small donation to support a worthy cause.  Perform random acts of kindness. 

I’ll just tell you when I go into Dunkin’ Donuts most mornings, I get a great thrill out of buying the people behind me coffee or donuts or whatever they want.  It makes me feel better and I’ll tell you if you do things like that, it’ll make you feel better.  It’ll make the people around you feel better, and our whole community will become stronger. 

We also learned about teamwork that week and being part of a community.  T-E-A-M, an acronym for together everyone achieves more.  There are no I’s in team.  If you’re a Patriots fan, you know the amount of emphasis we place on teamwork, but as much as I appreciate the effort of our players and coaches, I have never seen a better display of teamwork than what we witnessed in Boston last month.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we could inspire that type of unity and collaboration in Washington on both sides of the aisle. 

So as you begin your career path, take the time to identify your core values.  Write them down.  Stay true to them.  Those values will define who are as a person. 

When I was graduating from college, the things I valued most were family, faith, and philanthropy.  I refer to them as the three f’s, phonetically speaking.  Life will be distracting.  Let those values serve as your moral compass.  Return to them and let them guide you through life’s many adventures.  And, by the way, I’ve since added a fourth f that guides me now.  It’s family, faith, philanthropy, and football. 

So, to extend the metaphor, think of your core values as your internal GPS.  If you know your destination, GPSs are great devices.  Just punch in the address and no matter where you turn, it creates a route to get you where you want to go.  Take a wrong turn and the GPS will direct you back on course.  GPS can also be an acronym for three qualities or beliefs that can help you reach your personal destination.  Guts, passion, and service.  Guts can be defined as determination, perseverance, mental toughness, and good old-fashioned hard work.  Suffolk gave you a great education and a well-rounded foundation from which to build. As a result, you will have tremendous opportunities ahead. But it takes more than intellect to succeed in life. You need guts. It’s a competitive world. And you must have the desire and dogged determination to overcome the many obstacles you will encounter along the way.

The P in GPS stands for passion. Out-working your competition is a lot easier to achieve if you're passionate about what you are doing. As you start your adult lives, you’ll be faced with more and more choices of how to spend your time professionally, personally, and philanthropically. As you make these decisions, choose the opportunities that challenge you, that stimulate your mind, and that motivate you. Choose the opportunities that are most rewarding, not financially, but personally and professionally. That is how I define passion. The most successful people I know love what they do. If you choose to do things that you are passionate about, you will not only do them better, but most importantly, you’ll be a significantly happier person.

For those of you who are thinking, OK, it’s easy for him to say that, he owns the Patriots, well, you're right. But at the age of 25, when I first pursued a career in the packaging industry, I was as excited about the production process in a corrugated box factory as I am today about the Patriots. I still enjoy talking to our production foreman as I enjoy talking to our coaches. The biggest difference between the two is when I have a bad day at one of my factories, I can still go in a Dunkin’ Donuts without everyone in line giving me unsolicited advice on how to improve production. We have a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacks in New England.

The S in GPS stands for service, providing aid to those in need. I know as the president said that many of you participated at Suffolk’s Organization for Uplifting Lives through Service or SOULS, as it is called, and have positively impacted the lives of thousands of men, women, and children in greater Boston. I can’t think of a better reward than positively impacting the lives of others. It gets back to the concept of being a first responder every day and the sense of community it generates when you help someone in need of aid.

My father, Harry, of blessed memory, left me an ethical will in which the principle component was, when you go to bed every night, make sure the people you've touched that day are richer for having known you. My father was not a man of great financial wealth, but he was a community and spiritual leader. Growing up, our family lived very modestly. We didn’t own a car. I attended public schools in Brookline and received an academic scholarship to Columbia. My father taught me to help others and to tithe. He would do anything for anyone. And he made a tremendous impact on the lives of everyone he came in contact with. I still consider him the richest man I have ever known. He has inspired me to try to be a positive influence in the lives of others. So always remember your roots and where you came from.

And in that regard, one of my favorite stories among Super Bowl anecdotes involved wide receiver, Deion Branch. He was in his third season as a Patriot in 2004. That season, Deion was a key contributor to the team’s success and helped us get back to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year, and three times in the previous four years.

On the morning of Super Bowl 39, Deion took the time to pause and reflect. He started calling all of the coaches and mentors who had helped guide him throughout his life. He just wanted to say thank you. Can you imagine how each of these mentors felt getting a call from an NFL Pro Bowl player the morning of the Super Bowl? So hours after he made those calls, Deion tied a Super Bowl record with eleven receptions in the game, and he earned most valuable player honors, all while helping the Patriots win another Super Bowl championship. I love that story.

So take the time to thank all of those who have helped you reach this day -- your professors, your friends, your family. And I’d like to just invite all the moms and dads in the audience here to stand up so that we can give you a round of applause. So when you get home tonight, be sure to give them all a hug and tell them you love them.

When you do arrive at your destination, don’t forget where you came from. And if you do OK financially, remember Suffolk and where it all started educationally, and give generously back to them so that they can continue to do the good things in our community. Adventurous journeys await each of you.

But I want to leave you with one final piece of advice. And this is important in my opinion. My advice is, don’t follow the advice of others. I am not suggesting that you ignore advice, but just don’t let your advisers make decisions for you. Be your own person. Make your own decisions. Trust your own instincts. Take risks. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes and have the perseverance to keep trying. I mentioned my start in the paper industry right out of college. Shortly thereafter I pursued my first acquisition of a paper mill up in the province of Newfoundland. And all my financial advisers told me I was nuts and that if I did it, I would probably go bankrupt.

Well, I didn’t listen to them. And today that little company does business in over 91 countries in the world. And if I had followed all my advisers’ advice, I don't know where that company would be.

Years later, I asked for a loan from the Bank of Boston to buy the old Foxboro Stadium. The president of the bank was a close friend and adviser. He told me I was making a big mistake and not to buy the old Foxboro Stadium because it was a white elephant. If I had listened to him, the Patriots would have moved to St. Louis at around the time that most of you were born. Can you imagine a Boston without the Patriots, without Tom Brady, without the presence of Vince Wilfork, both on and off the field, in the community? Can you imagine a Boston without Rob Gronkowski?

So instead, I followed my instincts. And when the time came to take the loan to buy the stadium, that allowed me to leverage that into eventually buying the Patriots in 1994.

And that brings me to another major decision in my life in 2000. I had to hire a new head coach. And I had advisers coming out of the woodwork from every direction telling me who I should hire, but most importantly telling me that I shouldn’t hire Bill Belichick whom I wanted to hire. And it was very complicated. And it required that I give up a first-round draft choice to the dreaded New York Jets. And no one had ever done that previously. So I had people from the NFL office, high executives. I had objective media people, some of whom might be here today, sending me tapes of Bill doing press conferences in Cleveland. And fans argued that it was too high a price to pay for a head coach.

Well, I didn’t follow the advice of my advisers. I followed my heart. Now I must say, I didn’t hire him because he was a snappy dresser who was going to be on the cover of GQ. I valued substance over style. And I hope all of you do. I had had exposure to him, the impact that he had had on us four years before when he helped the secondary on our ’96 team that went to the Super Bowl. And it only took him three seasons since he became a head coach with us to get us back to the Super Bowl.

So my point with each of these examples is that with every risk I took, I had plenty of advice from others. Advisers who I knew and trusted told me that I was making a big mistake with each of these decisions. So I believe that it is important to listen to the opinion of others, but I still follow my own instincts and follow my heart. So remember my advice. Don’t solely listen to the advice of others. And years from now, or even later today when someone asks you, what advice were you given on your commencement day, and you respond, I don't know, I wasn’t listening, well then I will know you were paying attention.

So Suffolk University class of 2013, remember to dream your dream. Nothing is impossible. Don’t take no for an answer. Enjoy your journey. We’re privileged to live in the best country on the planet. And thank you very, very much for giving me the honor to speak to you.

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