© 2014 Jay Paterno

State College Area High School Faculty Scholars Awards

May 24, 2012

State College, PA

I want to congratulate the honorees tonight. This is certainly something worthy of celebrating. For me it is an honor to be here. I am not sure that I would have qualified for these awards if they’d had them back in 1986. But maybe they did have them and I just didn’t know it….

 

Which reminds me of a quick story. One of our freshman players came up to Joe Paterno after his first year to share an accomplishment of which he was very proud.

 

“Coach,” he said “I made the dean’s list.”

 

Another player standing there asked “What’s the dean’s list?”

 

Joe looked at the second player and said “Well, I guess we know you’re not on it.”

 

I’m not sure when the faculty scholar awards program began at State College High School but I’m pretty sure I am not an alumnus.

 

Tonight you are to be congratulated for what you have done. While you may not know it now there are already so many things you’ve learned that will help you later in life—some of it may surprise you. I can remember some of the great teachers I had in this same high school.

 

I recall my high school physics teacher Mr Hopkins. Even twenty-six years ago I still remember that Force= Mass Times Acceleration. Mr. Divert taught me the Pythagorean Theorem where A squared plus B squared equals C squared. When I was in high school, I used to think I will never use this again in my life. I was wrong.

 

Prior to the 2008 season I used that formula and physics lessons to re-design some of the plays we were running. The Pythagorean Theorem helped me calculate field spacing distances. Using those distances and then calculating the average speed of linebackers or safeties help determine the on field spacing of our pass game.

 

That offense was among the Top 10 in Big Ten Conference history. The next spring I was in Virginia Beach to recruiting a player and told his geometry teacher about my use of the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate field spacing and distances. She asked me to come in and explain it and the next thing I knew I was a guest lecturer in a geometry class.

 

That’s not all I learned. 10th grade world cultures teacher Dr. Wilkerson challenged us to question assumptions.

 

At the height of the Cold War he brought in information from the United States government on missile counts showing a huge superiority in Soviet missiles. Then we were to contrast them with information from the Soviets showing a huge U.S. superiority. On successive days he brought in an Israeli citizen to tell us how he lived through the formation of Israel and then a Palestinian woman whose family lost their land and citizenship when Israel was formed.

 

That idea, that concept of being able to analyze and see both sides of a story remains. It pushes me to always look around and keep learning. There’s a story I want to share with you:

 

President Abraham Lincoln used to love to tell stories and one of his favorites was about a farmer on the plains of Illinois. He had a wide open farm, a beautiful farmhouse and acres and acres of land. Next to his house he had a big oak tree, the only tree on the land directly adjacent to his house. One day while the farmer was sitting on his front porch he saw a squirrel climbing up the tree and disappear into a hole part way up the tree.

 

The farmer knew that if there was a hole in the tree there was a chance the tree was rotting inside. So he grabbed a ladder and went to check out the hole. When he got up there he could see that the tree was in the early stages of starting to rot which meant it could be dying.

He walked back to his porch and thought about the tree. He thought about the shade it gave his home in the scorching summer heat and how much he liked to sit under it on a hot day. But he knew that the tree may continue to rot and die. There was a chance it would fall on his home and destroy his farmhouse.

 

He didn’t want to cut the tree down because he loved it so much, yet he knew there was a chance that it would be a threat to his home and his family. He loved the shade it provided and he loved seeing it as the only tree in his yard. But the threat loomed.

 

He didn’t want to cut it down.

 

“I wish I’d never seen that squirrel.” The farmer said to himself.

 

That story represents the challenge of life. While you represent the best of the best at an incredibly competitive high school this distinction comes with a responsibility and a challenge.

You’ve already learned to push yourself and compete. But for the most successful people in life every achievement, every milestone reached is a moment to pause, reflect and then go find the next hurdle to clear.

 

Your drive to learn, your drive to expand your mind has served you well. To be recognized as a Faculty Scholar means that you’ve earned the respect of teachers and faculty, many of whom have been here for many years and know greatness when they see it. They aren’t easily fooled.

 

But there are squirrels out there and you must look for them. In order to see them, and in order to be able to make decisions when you find the problems you will undoubtedly face you have to constantly be willing to learn.

 

The world you face, the world you are headed for is very different that the world I headed into in 1986. No matter what you want to do with your life, you will be competing not just with other students in the next county, the next state or from across the country.

 Your competition can come from anywhere and everywhere—from Berlin or Beijing or Bangalore---From Jerusalem, Johannesburg or Jakarta---From….London or Lagos or Sao Paolo…. You get the point.

 

Sometime in the next few years your formal schooling may be finished but that must never stop your education. To continue your education it is necessary to reach and expand your mind as you compete in a world that is rapidly shrinking and where the barriers to competition are eroding every day.

 

To compete in a global market place the only way to stay ahead is to constantly update the “Apps” that run your brain. Everyone says it but so few people are serious about it. I was lucky; I had great role models as parents. Throughout their lives they never lost curiosity about the world around them.

 

Joe Paterno always told his coaches and his teams that every day “You either get better or you get worse you never stay the same.”

 

His point was that standing still was the same as slipping because he knew someone, somewhere was waking up with the idea that they would work hard that day to get ahead. They are out there.

 

Our country’s best days occurred when our minds were able to outthink and outhustle others in times of struggle. What if we hadn’t won the space race? What if the Germans or Japanese had developed the atomic bomb before we did? What if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Henry Ford had decided that the effort to innovate wasn’t worth it?

Keep in mind what Ghandi said: "It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."

 

With that in mind push yourself to seek out people who have opinions that you do not agree with. Engage them, learn from them. Question your own assumptions, keep learning. Then we all get better.

 

Over the years I’ve come to see that the best learning occurs when our ears are open and our mouths are shut. Having said that, I stress that you have to open your mouth and ask questions to get to the core of what you want to learn.

 

But once you’ve begun your questions, your inquiry, be sure that you never set off on that journey with your answers pre-determined. Never be afraid of where your inquiries will lead. Don’t dismiss that squirrel sighting and assume that the tree next to your house isn’t going to fall on your home.

 

Stretch yourself, try new things and get involved. Four years ago I got involved in the Obama campaign and before I knew it I found myself making speeches as a campaign surrogate around the state and eventually in front of 15,000 people at a campaign event.

 

A couple of years ago I started writing columns for State College.com and last summer had a column translated into Chinese for the Epoch Times—the world’s biggest Chinese Language newspaper.

 

I took a risks and stepped outside my comfort zone.

 

All of you have already displayed leadership, dedication, intelligence and commitment or you wouldn’t be here. But know this, in life there will be setbacks, there will be days when things are less than perfect. But never fear the risks that come with chasing perfection.

 

The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said:

 

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

 

Excellence is what we must spend our lives catching and it is most often ensnared as we chase perfection. But I will let you in on a little secret—while you chase perfection you must allow that you will make mistakes, you will not always reach the mark. You must accept that reality. You must understand that the higher the stakes, the more difficult the challenge the more likely it is that you will not be perfect.

 

The key is how you react to the setbacks, how you get up and get back after it. Keep hustling, keep chasing perfection.

 

Michael Jordan is one of the great winners of all time. He hit a lot of clutch game-winning shots and won 6 NBA titles. Yet in my favorite Michael Jordan Nike Ad he spoke these words:

 

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career

I’ve lost almost 300 games

26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot….

…..and missed

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life……..

…….And that is why I succeed

 

As you move into the next challenges remember you will miss the game winning shot sometimes, you will get something wrong on a test, you will fall short.

 

But don’t ever allow that to prevent you from “getting better”, don’t ever lose the idea that by “Chasing perfection you will grab excellence.”

 

It takes talent, it takes preparation, it takes commitment and it takes persistence. Tonight I leave you with words from former President Calvin Coolidge:

 

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

 

Thank you for your time and your consideration and I wish you all the best.