Personal Reflections of a Student Athlete

by Sam Thompson

Recently, I was selected as the College of Arts and Humanities commencement speaker. I felt a wave of emotion after learning I won the audition. Since then, I’ve taken time to personally reflect on my journey here at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Starting on my speech the very next day, I was greeted by a severe case of writer’s block. I wanted a speech full of wit and wisdom, but nothing surfaced. How do I condense four years of life into a message that connects with a half-awake crowd of peers? I began to jot ideas down. I started to make changes…after changes…after changes. I rehearsed it, but something wasn’t working. I read the words, but they weren’t coming from the heart.

Shortly after feeling hopeless I received an email from my grandfather. He told me, “Keep it brief. If the speech achieves anything at all, tell the folks and the students what you would like to hear if you were seated in the audience.” Wisdom always comes in short form. Taking his advice, I listened for the voice behind my college journey. Here is my reflection:

Never forget my past as I work to improve my present so I can mold my future.


Nothing prepares you for your college journey. If you hear otherwise, it is a flat-out lie. Looking back, I am glad that I was not prepared. That lack of preparation has taught me how to fail, how to learn and how to become me.

I also found how to order Topperstix at 2 a.m. in Gage and how to navigate the blustery Minnesota winters.

As a student athlete, I have learned so many things over the past four years. I’m not trying to gain pity points from you, but college life is a little different – perhaps more difficult — for athletes. Unlike most students, I had to represent the name on the front of my jersey during all hours of the day. I not only represented my family and my hometown but I represented you, the students. .

In the process, I’ve learned how to respect authority, how to be on time for a class or meeting, how to get my school work done on time, how to say I’m wrong, how to say I’m sorry and how to be me.

And I was damn proud to claim my role as student athlete. Having that experience expanded my life lesson, That knowledge will stay with me until the day I die.

You know, a couple years back, my teammates were put in a difficult situation when our head coach was thrust into national news. As you may have heard recently, he has decided to regain the helm of the football program.

As an athlete, I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone. But I don’t regret being put in the situation with the men I called teammates and coaches. It taught me the importance of loyalty and of being focused on a dream. Most teams put in the situation would have crumbled. My teammates rose to the occasion. We won two conference championships, a regional championship, and were one game away from the national championship. We will continue to succeed.

While many may see me as a football player, in my mind I am still a pimply-faced teenager trying to navigate this unfamiliar terrain called life. I was a normal person facing real-life struggles.

College was hard.

I had plenty of long nights studying for tests or writing papers for classes. I had a serious relationship wilt. I missed my family. I missed my hometown. The struggle was there and it was real.

But college shaped me.

From it, I learned how to live by myself. I gained real-world knowledge. I found people who I wanted in my circle and in my corner. I was a part of many religious and academic groups on campus. I explored the city and the state. I became friends with my professors. I became friends with some awesome dudes and gals. I found me.


Are you who you want to be? That is the question I ask myself every morning. Is the present me who I want the future me to be. If not, then I need to change. This is something that has taken me three years to understand since my journey started in Mankato.

One of the lessons that has stuck with me in my time at MSU is that of failure. I have learned to fall in love with the process of failing, because I get to wake up each morning knowing that I am human, that I am not perfect and that I need to evolve with the world around me. If I decided to fall in love with the process of succeeding, then I would become complacent in my relationships with others, how I work and how I treat those around me.

Every once in a while we need to be critical of ourselves. If not, then we will never become better. We will never become who we dream of becoming. Everyone messes up. It’s called being human. Be willing to adapt to the world while maintaining your values. Personal evolution is good.

Most importantly, embrace the moment you are in. Whether that be positive or negative, it will shape you,. Learn from your mistakes and relish in your successes. One thing that we all continually need to do is appreciate those who touch our lives. Tell those around you, “I’m really glad your here.” I dare you! See what happens. For life is too short to be hung up on being hateful and upset…quoting Elsa in FROZEN…”let it go.”


If I could make you understand one thing about your future it would be this: you decided what it will be yesterday.

This might be a little philosophical, but hear me out. The past helps to shape our future. If you decided in your past to be involved with a lot of groups on campus, be social on the weekends and have a diverse group of friends, you are creating connections with a multitude of people that can help support and shape your future. If you decide to be caught up in drama, drugs and dumb stuff, your future will be filled with failure and what you have consumed in your past. You will surely “regurgitate” what your body, mind and soul consume.

So where’s the hope in this? The hope is in today. Today will be tomorrow’s yesterday. Each day when we wake up we have a chance to change our future. If our yesterdays have been filled with unhealthy decisions, you can fix that. And it starts with today. We can always change the outcome of our future, but only if we allow ourselves to take that step.

If you take one thing away from this, here it is: Live life like a kid. Laugh when you get the chance to laugh. Dance when you get the chance to dance (but no twerking after you are 26, that’s pushing it). Give someone a high-five when they do something awesome. Be vulnerable to cry when your heart hurts. Forgive one another of their mess-ups. And love all, because love is always louder, no matter what, even if hate has a blow horn. LOVE WILL ALWAYS BE LOUDER.

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