Kirk Cousins: May 3, 2019 Michigan State University Commencement Address

May 4, 2019

Thank you, President Udpa. It's an honor to be back today amongst Spartans. Congratulations to the graduating class of 2019. Today, most of you are accomplishing something I wasn't able to do. You're graduating in only four years. Despite going to summer school every year I was here, it somehow took me four and a half years to graduate. I guess you could say football gave me a hangover. In light of it taking me four and a half years to graduate, I thought I'd quickly share four and a half specific truths that I learned while I was here as a student, truths that in the seven years since my graduation, I've discovered to be exactly that, true.


For the sake of time, let me jump right in. The first truth I learned while at MSU is that it's who, not what, that will count most for you. For the past four years it's likely you've been focused on the what. What will I major in? What career will that major lead me into? What specific job or additional study will I pursue upon graduation? These questions are good questions, obviously they're important. Having said this, I can tell you from experience that your joy in life moving forward will come far more from who you do life with than from what you do.

You see, a great job done alongside people you don't enjoy suddenly becomes a less than great job. Conversely, a rough job done alongside people you do enjoy can become a great job. I've played a lot of football over many years now. So many years, in fact, that I likely started playing organized football before you graduates were born. I knew coming back here was going to make me feel a little old.

Playing football has always been a passion of mine, and I get to do it for a living. What I do is a dream come true. But the truth is that while some football seasons have been very enjoyable, others have been a grind. The what remained the same, but who I played with made the difference. Some coaches were a joy to play for, others were difficult. Some teams have been made up of great teammates, while others have been comprised of less than great teammates. Who you choose to do life with, day in and day out, will be a major factor in the joy with which you live moving forward. As you seek to answer all the inevitable what questions of life, don't miss the importance of who.

The second truth I learned while at Michigan State is that in order to succeed, you can't just deliver, you must overdeliver. At the risk of dashing anyone's dreams today, your first job probably won't carry the title of company president or even vice president. Unless you run your own company, chances are you'll start somewhere near the bottom. In the football world, it's called being a backup. For two of four and a half years at MSU, and three of seven years in the NFL, my primary position on game days was called the bench.

Credit Iain Bogle MSU Today

While I was spending time on the bench at Michigan State, I had a coach named Don Treadwell who said, "Kirk, go out every day focused on playing so well in practice that the coaches can't wait to put you on the field in a real game. While you're a backup, prepare and lead like you're the starter." You see, being that I likely wasn't going to play that season, to just do my job and punch the clock would have been viewed as enough. But it wasn't going to get me where I wanted to go nor provide meaning in my current role. From day one, in whatever role you find yourself, think about how you can overdeliver. Work like you're the company president and one day you may very well be the company president.

The third truth I learned while at Michigan State was the need to see life through a window and not a mirror. There are two kinds of people in life, window people and mirror people. Most, by a wide margin, are mirror people. In fact, by human nature we're all mirror people. We travel through life focused on ourselves thinking, "What about me?"

I've had teammates that are mirror guys. While they want to win, what they're really concerned about is themselves. In a win, they could be upset. In a loss, they could be happy. All that mattered was their own success. Window people, on the other hand, measure success by the contribution they make into the lives of others.

In August of 2007, I had my very first practice at Michigan State. It didn't go well. I couldn't spit out the plays. I couldn't get the snap count right. I missed reads. The challenge of learning an entirely new playbook was very real. Walking off the practice field that day, I was considering transferring back to the small Division 3 school in my hometown as that felt like more where I belonged. At that moment, a team leader named Justin Kershaw walked up behind me, put his arm around me and asked, "Kirk, how'd you think practice went for you?" "Not well, Justin." He replied, "Kirk, you may not know the plays yet, but those of us on defense could see you have ability. Just keep working and it will come. We all struggled on our first day here."

And just like that, my entire perspective on my future at Michigan State had changed all because an upperclassmen stopped thinking about himself for five seconds and put his arm around a meaningless freshmen. We all have window people in our lives who have gotten us to where we are. Justin's one of mine.

I was voted captain for three years at Michigan State. People ask me how that happened. I'd tell them, "I just tried to be like Justin as much as possible by looking at our team through a window." I guess teammates notice, just like I did with Justin. I challenge you to look at life through a window, to be a blessing to the people whose paths you cross. With so many people looking into a mirror, if you choose to look through a window, you can't help but stand out.

The fourth truth I learned at Michigan State would be that life becomes a reflection of the decisions we make. On my recruiting visit to Michigan State, my future quarterback coach of five years, Dave Warner, asked me what I thought the number one trait was in quarterbacking. Not having a scholarship offer yet, I wanted to get the answer right, so I tried covering all the bases. But I stumbled through an incoherent answer. When I finished, he looked at me and said, "Good try, Kirk, but let me tell you what I think it is, decision making."

It was at that time I noticed a giant sign in the room that said, "Make good decisions." That should have been my first clue. But as I said earlier, I had a lot to learn when I arrived at Michigan State. Coach Warner then said something that stuck with me for the rest of my career, and has been the foundation for my success on the football field. "Kirk, if you make good decisions with the football in your hand, everything else takes care of itself. If you make bad decisions with the football in your hand, no other trait really matters."

My effectiveness as a quarterback, going back to that first practice at MSU, has been largely dependent upon my ability to make good decisions with a football in my hand. Do I audible at the line of scrimmage? Will the protection plan work, or do I need to change it? Based on the defense here, who will be open? When it's not there, do I throw it away or take a sack? Playing quarterback in pro football and doing it for a long time hinges largely on the ability to make great decisions. While true in quarterbacking, it's even more true in the game of life.

The Bible puts it this way in Galatians 6:7, "Whatever a person sows, this they will also reap." Good decisions, be they big or small, will yield good results while bad decisions, yield bad results. It's not just the big decisions like who you marry, it's the everyday decisions like how you care for your health and how you spend your free time. Who you choose as your friends and whether or not you deliver or overdeliver each and every day.

I've made it a habit to often ask myself, "Is this a good decision?" The bottom line, make enough good decisions and chances are, things will work out just fine.

Credit Iain Bogle MSU Today

As I close, let me give half a thought for that extra half a year I spent earning my degree. And that half a thought is this, through it all, enjoy the journey. You can prepare for the future today, but you can't live the future today. If your joy in life is always tied to a future experience, you'll never know true joy. I have very few regrets from my time at Michigan State. The Lord blessed my time here in ways I never thought possible. But I do have one regret, and it's that I didn't enjoy the journey enough. While I was chasing after the Rose Bowl, I didn't stop and smell the roses along the way. I think that people who enjoy the journey not only have greater success, but they leave greater impact.

The Bible again offers good advice here. In Psalm 1:18 it says, "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Or to quote The Office, a show I watched during my years here. Andy Bernard says in the final minutes of the final episode, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them." Today you're leaving some of those good old days behind. But remember as you move forward, it's who, not what, that counts the most. Don't just deliver, overdeliver. See life through a window, not a mirror, and choose to be a great decision maker.

Do those four things while enjoying the journey along the way and if my life is any example, you'll have plenty of good days ahead, maybe even good enough to shout at someone, "You like that." Congratulations to every one of you. God bless you all, and always, always, Go Green.

(Later at the press conference) What does it mean to be a Spartan? It's hard to encapsulate into a short answer in a few words. I mean, it's the foundation of where my life has gone. When you look at who I was as an 18-year old, when I arrived on campus in 2007 to where my life is now, I think that sums it up. Michigan State was the springboard and the place to stand from which anything I accomplish going forward, I'll have to look back and say, "It all started at Michigan State."