By MICHELLE CASADY
About 500 people gathered in Rudder Auditorium for convocation Thursday evening as Texas A&M University System Regent Gene Stallings related life lessons from the gridiron to the soon-to-be graduates.
Some students had post-graduation jobs lined up, some decided to continue their education with graduate school and others were undecided.
Stallings, a former Texas A&M and NFL football coach, had one message for all of them, adopted from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes: Enjoy the work you do.
"Don't take a job because of the money," he said. "Just don't do it. Love your work. Not everyone's going to be a CEO, you just have to do the best you can and love your work."
He reminded students that despite the current culture of instant gratification, it takes time to reach the top, and that's OK.
Recalling an article he read in which several senior citizens were asked what they would do differently in life if they could, he said there was a common thread in the answers.
"They all said, 'I would take more risks,'" he said. "Don't be afraid to fail; sometimes things just don't work out. Don't be afraid to take a risk, don't be afraid to gamble."
For Matt Mohr, a senior sport management major from Houston who would enjoy working for a professional sports team in his hometown one day, Stallings' words hit home.
"It was remarkable. The stories brought tears to my eyes," he said. "He told us to enjoy our work; that's something I'll probably take with me, those three little words, for the rest of my life."
Mohr said Stallings' comments also helped him realize that there are more important things than purely professional success.
"Originally I wanted to one day maybe own or manage a football or baseball team," he said. "But now I'm not so die-hard, 100 percent, let me do this. That takes time away from your family and friends. I still want to enjoy what I do, but family and friends come first."
While Mohr hasn't locked down a job yet, he's got some promising interviews lined up, he said.
The convocation ceremony was the prelude to two graduation ceremonies for more than 1,800 summer graduates. The ceremonies are set for 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday in Reed Arena.
Two Fredericksburg women who have been friends since their high school days, Diane Klein and Dawn Houseal, also were in attendance at the ceremony.
Their sons became friends in junior high, when they began attending the same school. They graduated high school, went to A&M and joined the Corps of Cadets together.
Klein's son, Bryce, will graduate Friday with a degree in agriculture leadership and development and will pursue a career with the U.S. Army.
"I can't believe it's actually here," his mother said. "It seems like just yesterday we were dropping him off for Hell Week."
Houseal's son won't be graduating until next year, but she was there, showing her support and holding a scrapbook she made commemorating the senior year of another graduating Corps member.
Stallings' address affected some parents as much as it did their children.
"I loved it. I thought it was beautiful -- so rich and deep," Houseal said. "It was just full of everything that you could possibly want your son or daughter to hear. Live your life to the fullest and love what you do. That's near and dear to my heart, and I appreciated that greatly."
Bryce Klein said he found the speech inspiring and a welcome change from the dismal economic news hitting most graduates.
"It gave me a brighter outlook," he said. "There's a lack of opportunities out there now, but there's still hope. There's still jobs you can love doing out there."
Klein counts himself fortunate, getting to pursue a dream he's had since the fourth grade -- serving his country.
"My time here has been amazing. I wish I could just go back and relive it all again," he said. "Being in the Corps has made me a better person all around. I'm mentally stronger and more prepared for the challenges I'm going to face."
Many who attended the ceremony seemed to think Stallings offered sound advice: Take pride in your work, love your family, enjoy your job, take risks, respect your employers, surround yourself with good people and try to always better yourself but learn to accept a failure or two along the way.
"We have a great respect for you guys getting your degrees, and the mommas and daddies who helped them get there," he said. "Your journey is just getting started. Thank you, and good luck."