That was part of Eli Manning’s message to the Class of 2020 in a sincere and heartfelt commencement speech to graduates who did not experience an on-site ceremony amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“You see, I don’t mind being in awkward situations or doing things I don’t necessarily want to do,’’ Manning said. “Like becoming the Giants backup quarterback after winning two Super Bowls and walking away with the MVP. Embracing awkward is worth cultivating, because life, like this graduation, rarely goes as planned.’’
Manning, recently retired after 16 years as the Giants quarterback, spoke as part of iHeartMedia’s campaign “Commencement Speeches for the Class of 2020.’’ Other celebrities to participate include John Legend, Hillary Clinton, Tim McGraw and Bill and Melinda Gates.
Manning’s 11-minute address was filled with self-deprecation, words of inspiration and his acknowledging his own failings and fears.
“Am I the only one that thinks this is kinda weird?’’ he asked. “Virtual graduations?’’
Manning took a trip down memory lane, to his years in college at Ole Miss, alluding to something he almost never addresses — an arrest for public drunkenness as a 19-year old freshman.
“The dreaded 8 a.m. classes,’’ he said. “Then there were Scantrons. I still have a recurring nightmare where I show up to take a test and I don’t have a freaking Scantron and nobody will give me one. I remember the first time I saw my future wife. And I remember the first time being in the back of a cop car.
“There were group study sessions and of course the Sunday scaries after the weekend without getting any work done and facing that stressful 12-hour window to complete assignments before Monday. And yeah, I remember trying to remember how long it has been since the last time I washed my sheets.’’
A lyric by country singer Jason Bolin, Manning said, could have been written for him: “I have a harmless habit of being fine wherever I am.’’
Manning spoke about situations that were difficult for him to navigate, such as his many, many visits to visit sick kids in hospitals.
“At some point everybody should walk into a hospital’s pediatric cancer floor,’’ he said. “It certainly puts life in perspective. Believe me, I’ve squirmed through these situations more times than I can count and despite my own discomfort it lifted their spirits and put a smile on their face just because I was there for them.’’
Manning admitted he had difficulties in school.
“I’m not the smartest person you’ve ever met, not by a longshot,’’ he said. “School was hard for me all my life, from elementary through college. But I showed up and I was present. That doesn’t take skill. It takes commitment.’’
With his avoidance of social media, it came as no surprise Manning challenged the graduates to thank anyone who helped them get this far with a personal touch.
“I don’t mean sending out a mass tweet, to me that seems insincere and much too easy,’’ he said. “There are people in your life who simply deserve to get a personal thank you.’’
As for the uncertain future facing everyone in this pandemic, Manning said “What would you do if you weren’t afraid? No one can vaccinate themselves against the unknown. No matter what the near future looks like, your life can only be diminished if you allow it to be. No one else can quarantine the memories, friendship or wisdom you’ve accumulated in the past four years.
“Don’t downgrade your dreams to fit today’s halting reality. Don’t let the new normal be an excuse for standing in place. It is up to you not to become the class that never was.
“If you haven’t already, it’s time to discover your own unique grade of rocket fuel and to blast off. Trust yourself. Your future trajectory is up to you.’’