• Coach K Delivers 2016 Commencement Address

    Posted: May 15th, 2016

    coach-k-graduation2In his 36 years as the men’s head basketball coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski has delivered countless motivational speeches to his players.

    On a cloudless, cool May Sunday morning, Coach K was again exhorting Duke students — reminding them that attitude, belief, preparation and execution are the keys to being a part of a successful team — except this time his words were directed at Duke’s Class of 2016 during the university’s 164th commencement ceremonies.

    “There’s nothing more important than attitude, and it’s your choice,” he said.

    Duke President Richard H. Brodhead presided over the ceremony, which awarded more than 5,300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees before a stadium packed with cheering family and friends.

    The ceremony also marked the return of commencement to Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Last year’s ceremony was moved to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park downtown because of renovations to Duke’s football stadium. The improvements to the football stadium are still ongoing and quite visible, including a three-story, glass-enclosed suite and press box area towering above the stands on the west side.

    “We, like much of this campus, are under construction,” Duke Chapel Dean Luke Powery said in the opening invocation. “We’re all a work in progress.”

    Twelve of this year’s graduates were the first recipients of Duke’s undergraduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The program encourages students to pursue a rigorous, cross-disciplinary study that builds on Duke’s existing emphasis on knowledge in service to society.

    Another five graduates were in the inaugural class of the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, which provides access to quality and relevant education to academically talented young people from Sub-Saharan Africa who are committed to giving back to their communities and countries.

    The ceremony, which was webcast live on Duke’s YouTube channel and covered on Twitter at #Duke2016, also honored students who graduated in September or December 2015.

    Krzyzewski, who has led the Blue Devils to five NCAA championships, amassed the most wins in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history and been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, said it was the first time he had spoken at a graduation.

    “I’ve been asked really about 100 times to speak at graduations around the country and I saved myself for you. … I’ve dreamed of this day, just like you’ve dreamed of this day, and it’s an honor.”

    Coach K often mixed humor with personal anecdotes to lay out the successful formula he’s followed in his life. He spoke about his mother who advised him on the day before he started high school to get on the right bus. He told her he knew how to get to school, but she responded, “Tomorrow you’re going to meet new people. You’re going to get on a different journey. And the bus that you drive, make sure it’s the right one. Make sure you let only good people on it. … Good people will make you better.”

    As an extension of that advice, Krzyzewski said he has no rules for his basketball teams, only standards, which include “communication, we’re going to look each other in the eye, we’re going to tell each other the truth, we’re going to have each other’s back, … we’re going to be enthusiastic, we’re going to win and lose together.”

    He reminded the graduates that they will be knocked down from time to time, “but failure or any kind of setback is not a destination. … There was something good about being knocked down as long as it wasn’t your destination.”

    In addition to being the coach at Duke, Krzyzewski is also the head coach of the USA Men’s National team. In that role, he’s guided the men’s basketball team to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and will again coach the U.S. men’s basketball team during the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil.

    He spoke about the challenge of pulling together superstars into a team, “to get them to find one heart.” One way he did so was to take the Olympic team to visit with wounded veterans and with military troops “who understand selfless service, and really have the biggest hearts in our country. And as a result of being with them they felt it. And as a result of that we played with one heart.”

    Coach K, who also teaches courses in leadership at Duke and is active in the Durham community and with several charitable organizations, concluded by asking the students to stand and link arms. At the count of three, he told the students, squeeze your arms together and yell, “Together.”

    “Let’s go,” he added. “Coach K out.”



Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication. Communication does not always occur naturally, and must be taught and practiced in order to bring everyone together as one. The most crucial element of communicating is telling the truth.

- Coach K

When you are winning, your commitment is never challenged. But loyalty and dedication during difficult times can be tough. When commitment doesn’t waver, that’s when you have the greatest chance of winning. You can never give up.

- Coach K

Take care not to allow one aspect of your life to so consume you that you neglect the others. Balance can put things in perspective, can bring you joy even when you are down, and can allow you to be at your best in all aspects of your life.

- Coach K

You have to adapt what you do based on who you are. In teaching, you must remember that no group or individual is the same as who you taught the day before, the year before, or the decade before. Your plan has to suit who you and your team are right now.

- Coach K

Belief can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try. On a team or in a family, belief makes each individual stronger and also fortifies the group as a whole. The basis of belief is in individual relationships.

- Coach K
Collective Responsibility

We win and we lose together. Handling the responsibility for wins and losses together removes the burden from one individual’s shoulders and distributes it among each member of the team. That atmosphere is conducive to high-level performance and places you and your team in the position to be bold and unafraid, and if you should lose, you are not alone.

- Coach K

No matter how successful you believe yourself to be, you can never feel as if you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle. There are always new and wonderful challenges out there, and part of maintaining success is knowing when you need to accept them.

- Coach K

You can possess countless good qualities as an individual, but if you don”t have the courage to proceed, you may never see those qualities come into fruition. It takes courage to put what you believe to be best of you on the line, to test it, and to see how far it takes you. Courage means daring to do what you imagine.

- Coach K

When you care about someone or something, you show genuine concern for that person or thing, in good times or bad. When you care about one another and about your purpose, you are compelled to put your feelings into action. Care creates an atmosphere that breeds success and gives you the confidence to try again.

- Coach K

Adversity can teach you more about yourself than any success, and overcoming an obstacle can sometimes feel even better than achieving an easy victory. Through adversity, you can discover things about your endurance, your ability to turn a negative into a positive, and your personal strength of heart.

- Coach K
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