Sean Pendergast

J.J. Watt Crushes Commencement Speech at Wisconsin Graduation

J.J. Watt had some great messages for the graduates at his alma mater.
J.J. Watt had some great messages for the graduates at his alma mater. Screen grab from YouTube
J.J. Watt's journey from Pewaukee, Wisconsin to three NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards is one of the more jagged, inspirational stories you'll hear. It included a stop along the way as a walk-on for the Wisconsin Badgers during which he helped paint railings in Camp Randall Stadium in the summer months. On Saturday, Watt delivered the commencement speech to this year's graduating class of Badgers in that very stadium in which he was essentially a maintenance worker a little over a decade ago.

In a 23-minute speech to this year's graduating senior class, Watt did a phenomenal job of blending humor, improvisation, and inspirational messages with the overall theme being the assertion that we can "change the world, one person at a time. In case you missed the speech, good news! We live in the age of the internet where you can watch pretty much every commencement speech on every campus everywhere, including Wisconsin's!

Here you go....

If you're looking for the CliffsNotes version of the speech, here are J.J. Watt's four tenets to live by, shared with the University of Wisconsin on Saturday:

LESSON No. 1: The path to your dreams often never goes the way you plan that it will.
Well, this is certainly an area that Watt can speak to with great personal experience, as he shared his well known journey from tight end at Central Michigan to pizza delivery boy to walk-on at Wisconsin to All American to J.J. Watt, Destroyer of NFL Worlds. The anecdote that I had not heard before was his brief career as part of the maintenance crew at Camp Randall, painting the very railings that the audience was leaning against on Saturday with him as the star of the show.

LESSON No. 2: Nobody accomplishes their dreams alone.
Watt preached the need, in any journey, for help along the way, and that help can come from both positive and negative forces. The positive forces in watt's life were obvious — his parents, his brothers, his coaches, his teammates. However, the negative force discussion led to the well known story of the selection of Watt getting booed on draft night in 2011. Now, the story has taken on a bit of an embellished life of its own (It wasn't nearly as a unanimous as Watt and some make it out to be), but the fact of the matter is that any booing whatsoever was probably unexpected for Watt that night, and he's used that night as fuel in his ascent to the title of "Greatest Defensive Player of this Generation."

LESSON No. 3: Just as you can learn from chasing your dreams, you can also learn from your nightmares.
In this segment of the speech, Watt recounted the nightmare of Hurricane Harvey, when the Texans were on the road, stranded in Dallas, and their hometown was submerged under several feet of water four hours away. It was during that tragedy where Watt's light shone brightest, as he led a social media campaign to raise over $40 million to help the victims and the city. It was interesting in this portion of the speech that Watt openly said he was losing hope in his fellow man right before Harvey, that the news was so negative all the time, and that this campaign kind of restored his faith. Highly recommend this portion of the speech.

LESSON #4: I have a whole lot more left to learn.
...and hopefully a whole not more quarterbacks left to sack.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast