Despite trading his baseball uniform for a baccalaureate gown, Ray Tanner could not resist sharing the year’s big sports accomplishment with 2,500 graduates at the University of South Carolina’s winter commencement on Monday.
“When you refer to yourself as a 2010 graduate, tell them you are a 2010 national champion graduate,” Tanner told a full house at Colonial Life Arena.
Nearly six months after celebrating the Gamecocks’ College World Series title in the arena, the baseball coach returned as a commencement speaker at the request of students.
“My goodness how lucky can one man be,” Tanner said at the start of his speech.
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Calling the North Carolina native a “South Carolinian at heart,” USC president Harris Pastides said Tanner teaches how to bridge a successful professional career with efforts to give back to the community.
Also while introducing Tanner, Pastides joked he did not wear his baseball national championship ring: “Today, some of you will give me the firmest handshakes ever. And that would be painful for you and me.”
Tanner told graduates from eight USC campuses across the state to avoid being too focused on their goals.
“As you roll up your sleeves and go to work, do so with your head on a swivel,” he said. “As a young professional, I put my head down and plowed forward only to learn later that the beauty of life is appreciation of the journey – there is a lot of life to be lived.”
He also told them to be wary of cynicism: “Stay positive even when it is uncomfortable. Who knows, your witness could ultimately have a positive effect on a seemingly hopeless situation.”
And Tanner suggested leaving room for the lessons of failure: “As you know, our baseball team had quite a run this past summer but we did not go undefeated. We used those losses — they were failures – we used them to our advantage.Allow your failures to work for you.”
Jay Pou was among those getting to see Tanner a second time in the arena this year. The Saluda native got his master’s degree in education administration on Monday after being in the throng who greeted the championship baseball team in June. He called both moments among his most special at the school.
“I know he’s got a lot of fans in Columbia, right now,” Pou said. “I don’t think they could have picked a better speaker today.”