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NFL’s Griffin twins make virtual return at UCF graduation ceremony

Former Lakewood High football stars Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin give a virtual commencement address at UCF. A look at how other sports stars have fared with cap-and-gown crowds.

One brother could hardly move across the stage because the shoes he had ordered had arrived too small and his feet were killing him. His twin wanted to break out a dance move after receiving his diploma but abandoned the plan because the graduate in front of him beat him to it.

It was just four years ago that Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin attended their own commencement ceremony at the University of Central Florida, yet they were back again, for Saturday’s graduation. Well, sort of.

Now teammates with the Seattle Seahawks, the Griffin brothers delivered a virtual commencement address from their St. Petersburg home for an online audience of UCF graduates.

In preparation for the big event, the 24-year-olds had searched the Internet for examples of inspiring commencement speeches. The first they came across was one delivered by former President Barack Obama.

“I don’t think I’m going to top that one,’’ Shaquill said during a videoconference call earlier in the week.

So the brothers set their sights lower, taking the approach of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt’s speech at the University of Wisconsin, mixing humor and inspiration.

What they ended up with was a more off-the-cuff conversation about their time at UCF and their hopes for the graduating seniors.

“Don’t allow (an) obstacle … dictate who you are going to be,’’ Shaquem said during the commencement address. “You beat it, you fight it, you attack it, every single day it comes at you, and you become a better person, a better you.’’

In the spirt of their search for inspiration, here are some other commencement addresses from the sports world:

Peyton Manning

Speaking at the 2014 graduation at the University of Virginia, the alma mater of his wife, Ashley, the Pro Football Hall of Famer Manning recounted the story of his debut as a true freshman in Tennessee’s 1994 opener against UCLA.

Quarterback Jerry Colquitt was injured on the first series and backup Todd Helton was having mixed results as the Vols fell behind 18-0. Sent into the game as an 18-year-old, Manning said he immediately recalled the advice of his father, Archie, who told him the quarterback should be the leader of the huddle, no matter what his age.

“I get into that huddle I said, ‘All right guys, I know I’m just a freshman, but I can take us down the field right now, get us a touchdown, get us back in the game, now let’s go!’’’ Manning told the UVA crowd. “Big left tackle, guy named Jason Layman about 6-5, 330 pounds, grabs me by the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, freshman, shut the blank up and call the blanking play.’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’

“That was really great advice from my dad.’’

Abby Wambach

The University of Florida Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic soccer star’s 2018 commencement speech at Barnard College went viral, eventually leading to a book based on her message to graduates.

“Like all little girls I was taught to be grateful. I was taught to keep my head down, stay on the path and get my job done. I was freaking Little Red Riding Hood,’’ Wambach said. “The message is clear: don’t be curious, don’t make trouble, don’t say too much or bad things will happen. I stayed on the path out of fear. Not of being eaten by a wolf but of being cut, being benched, losing my paycheck.

“If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: ‘Abby, you were never Little Red Riding Hood, you were always the wolf.' Barnard women, class of 2018, we are the wolves!’’

Billie Jean King

While addressing Northwestern University graduates in 2017, the tennis legend explained why Elton John (and Bernie Taupin) wrote the song Philadelphia Freedom for her World Team Tennis franchise in 1975. King also spoke poignantly of relationships, acceptance and responsibility.

“The more you know about history, the more you know about yourself,’’ King said. “The late Coretta Scott King once said, ‘Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and you win it in every generation.' Today, it’s time for your generation to win and to shape the future.

“There are those who think life is a marathon. I don’t agree. I think life is a series of sprints. You get to start over and over and over again, always adapting to the long and winding road in front of you.’’

Russell Wilson

The Seahawks quarterback returned to the University of Wisconsin in 2016 to deliver the commencement speech, a year after losing Super Bowl 49 to the Patriots.

“I’m here to share some things I’ve learned,’’ Wilson said. “Things like: If you’re dating a woman that’s way out of your league, ask her to marry you. If you can throw a football 80 yards, for some reason people think that’s pretty cool. And if you’re playing New England in the Super Bowl and you’ve got 26 seconds left and you’re down by four and it’s second and goal on their 1-yard line, try not to throw an interception.

“That last one is purely hypothetical, though, of course.’’

Alejandro Villanueva

The Steelers offensive lineman is a West Point graduate, a former Army Ranger and a Bronze Star recipient who served three tours in Afghanistan. He gave the commencement address at Saint Vincent College in 2019.

“As hard and difficult as it may seem,’’ he said, “I don’t think anyone here will not find satisfaction in giving back to others. Giving without recognition is the most fulfilling. Giving to a person that is harder to like is the most rewarding. Giving without hesitation is the most authentic.

“Never be ashamed to reach out for help in times of need — only be ashamed if you do not do more for others. Our strength and skills individually are meaningless. Our cooperation and trust in one another is what made us successful as a species’’

Brandi Chastain

The World Cup soccer star recalled a story of her youth while giving a commencement speech at Santa Clara University in 2014.

“When I was a young girl, (my grandfather) knew that I loved to score goals, but he was trying to help me learn the lesson of giving,’’ Chastain said. “So he said to me one day, ‘Brandi, for every goal you score, I’m going to give you $1.’ I was like, ‘Yes, I’m going to be rich.’

‘“But (he said) for every assist you give, I’m going to give you $1.50.’ For me, that was really powerful and impactful. If I gave something to somebody else so they could do something great, it would come back twofold to me. So I thank you, my grandfather, for that lesson.’’

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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