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May 1, 2008

Commencement 2008: “Find what you love,” Marino tells Pitt grads

With his newly minted Doctor of Broadcast Journalism honorary degree in hand, Pitt alumnus, sports icon and Oakland native Dan Marino addressed this year’s University’s commencement congregation on some of life’s lessons.

“One of the most important things as you enter the real world is to find what you love to do. It may take some of you longer, but it’s worth the search to find your passion,” said Marino, who added that he was lucky to discover his own talent to throw a football at an early age.

“I found my love for sports at a young age. I found my true talent. All the hours on the practice field, all the days studying film and all the years of working on my game — it didn’t seem like work to me, because it was fun. It’s what I loved to do,” Marino told the packed Petersen Events Center throng April 27, noting that “The Pete” sits on the site of Pitt Stadium, scene of his college glory days. “I got chills walking up to this stage,” he said.

His talent led the star athlete to an outstanding career as a four-year starter at quarterback for Pitt and a 17-year professional career with the Miami Dolphins, culminating in his induction into both the college and pro football halls of fame.

In introducing Marino, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said that Pitt was privileged to honor an individual who embodies the ideals of the University, including high achievement, humanitarian commitment and meaningful engagement in a life of purpose.

“We recognize Dan for his accomplishments on the playing field, but we also honor him for his broader achievements and contributions in business, in broadcasting and in philanthropy,” Nordenberg said. “And we respectfully applaud in particular the dignity and grace that have unfailingly characterized his efforts as well as the rich foundation of human values upon which he has built his success. Today, it is his own University’s privilege to bestow upon Dan Marino an honor that recognizes his life of high achievement and broad impact.”

Marino, who earned his bachelor’s degree in communication science in 1983, said he had two goals when he entered college: to be the starting quarterback and, to fulfill the promise he made to his mother, to graduate.

“It’s been 25 years since I left Pitt, and the time has gone fast. You only come this way once. When you look back, only you will know what your potential was, because only you will know in your mind and heart whether you got the maximum out of your potential,” said Marino, who today is a sports commentator with CBS. “So 25 years from now when you look in the mirror, don’t look back and say, ‘I wish I had …’. ‘I wish I had worked harder. I wish I had followed my passion and dreams. I wish I made a difference in my community.’ You want to look back and say, ‘I was the best I could be.’ That ‘I worked hard and followed my dreams.’ That ‘I made a difference in people’s lives.’ If you can do that, then you will have peace of mind no matter what you achieve in life.”

Marino also urged the new graduates to get out from behind their computer screens and make a difference in the real world. “You’ve grown up in the Internet age with text messaging and emails, and how you learn today is incredibly different from how people learned 10 or 20 years ago,” he said. “But as much as the environment and the atmosphere of this campus have changed, the core values of life and success remain the same: hard work, passion, integrity. And, most important, family.

“The real world’s about relationships and life skills: looking people in the eye when you shake hands; treating people as you want to be treated. It’s about dealing with people and finding people you can trust. Know those you work with — who they are, what their interests are. Learn about their families,” Marino said.

That lesson hit home with him when Michael, one of his six children, was diagnosed with autism. “Seeing what he had to go through opened my eyes to the needs of families and children with developmental disabilities. When you touch someone’s life in a positive way, it lasts forever,” said Marino, who in 1992 with his wife, Claire, founded the Dan Marino Foundation, which provides comprehensive programs for children with developmental disabilities and chronic medical problems. “Believe me, nothing feels better than having parents come up to me and say, ‘You’re making a difference in my child’s life,’” he said.

“So, I want you to keep the personal touch in life. And I also urge you today to make a difference in your community. Wherever life takes you, give something back. It doesn’t have to be money. Give your time. Give your expertise. Give something of yourself. It was once said, ‘A great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.’ Giving back to your community will last forever,” Marino said.

“There will be obstacles. There always are to anything important. If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. So whether it’s education, the arts, business, medicine or politics, I encourage all of you find what you love. Go after your passion — not simply a paycheck. It doesn’t have to be about the money. I guarantee you this: If you love your life’s work, the financial reward will take care of itself.”

Noting that he achieved his two early goals of starting at quarterback and graduating, Marino said, “I was very proud of that, and all of you should be very proud to be Pitt graduates. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine receiving a doctorate in journalism. Now that I have one, I’ll be sure to let my colleagues at the ‘CBS NFL Today’ show know that. I will demand that they now call me ‘Dr. Dan,’” he said, much to the amusement of the audience.

This year the University conferred approximately 6,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees to students on the Pittsburgh campus, and approximately 1,000 undergraduate degrees to students on the Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville regional campuses, which hold their own commencement ceremonies.

—Peter Hart

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