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Penn State Football: James Franklin Scores With ESU Commencement Address

by on May 11, 2014 11:30 PM

James Franklin dominated his alma mater's commencement exercises on Saturday.

He spoke at a pair of undergraduate commencement programs at East Stroudsburg University, delivering the keynote address at 9 a.m. and then coming back to Koehler Field over four hours later to do it all again.

For Franklin, a 1995 ESU grad in psychology and now Penn State’s head football coach, the main messages were similar to those he has been delivering to high school recruits and Nittanty Lion football fans alike:

Life is all about relationships, built on a foundation of four core values -- a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, a competitive streak and a willingness to sacrifice.

Franklin’s message was brief, only 6 minutes and 36 seconds long. But it rang true, coming from a man who has had 11 different coaching jobs since he graduated from ESU nearly two decades years ago.

“Stay broke as long as you possibly can and chase your dreams,” Franklin said. “Chase your dreams as long as you possibly can, because the minute that money becomes part of your decision process, it changes everything.”

That long resume even drew some laughs when Franklin was introduced by East Stroudsburg president Marcia G. Welsh, who recited Franklin’s coaching history, then deadpanned: “He can’t keep a job.”

Delivering a commencement address is a tradition for Penn State football coaches. Joe Paterno headlined Penn State’s commencement, on June 16, 1973, inside Beaver Stadium. Read it here.

Two decades later, Bill O’Brien delivered the commencement address at Walt Whitman High School (Md.) in DAR Constitution Hall on June 7, 2013. Read it here.

Franklin, hired by Penn State in January, followed suit on Saturday. Watch his afternoon commencement address here and read the speech in its entirety below:


How’s everybody doing? I don’t feel a whole lot of pressure today because I asked about 50 people about who spoke at their graduation. And they had no idea. I asked them what the message was. And they had no idea.

So I’m going to try to keep this as brief as possible so everyone can go celebrate at Rudy’s (Tavern), which is what I know everybody wants to do.

I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned in my 19-year career since graduating from East Stroudsburg. So appreciative of the opportunity I got here and the education that I received. They’ve laid the foundation for everything we’ve done moving forward. I want to share with you things we are doing right now in our program at Penn State, things that we believe in.


No. 1 is that everything is about relationships. I don’t care what organization, what team, what corporation you are working for, it ultimately comes down to having positive, healthy relationships. We believe you can be unbelievably demanding and challenging to young people if you love ’em hard as well. That’s what we’re doing right now at Penn State. And we have been received extremely well.

I think curiosity is extremely important. Study why people have been successful. Study why people have failed. Study why businesses and organizations have been successful and failed. I think curiosity is going to be so important for you the rest of your life.

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All of you are going to be in leadership positions, in some role or capacity – whether it’s management, as a head coach or as a CEO. I recommend that you stay true to who you are. Be authentic. That will carry you so far. Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. My greatest strength is my passion and my drive. My greatest weakness is my passion and my drive. I think it’s so important that we all understand that.

We believe that we focus on the process that it takes to be successful and not the setting of goals. We believe you do a back handspring out of the bed every morning and you attack the day with every single thing you have. If you are the best you can possibly be academically, athletically, socially and spiritually the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. Our guys are embracing that.


I believe strongly in self-perception and self-talk. If you wake up and someone asks how you’re doing and how’s your day going, and you say, “All right,” that’s exactly how your day will be. I’ve been living the dream every day since I graduated from East Stroudsburg and I will continue to live my dream for the rest of my life.

How do you define yourself? Do not let others define you. There will be people the rest of your life trying to tell you who and what you will be. You will define that. You are in control of your own destiny. Wake up every single morning and attack it with what you have.

People say, “Well, coach, before this year you came from a conference that won seven straight national championships. What was the secret to their success?” There is no secret in any field of study. It’s about hard work, it’s about attention to detail and it’s about having a collective mentality – making sure everyone is singing the same song and singing the same tune. I recommend you identify the people who truly care about you and find the people who truly care about you in your future and use them as a resource – whether it’s your parents, whether it’s teachers, whether it’s someone from your neighborhood. Embrace those people.

We believe you can get everything you want in life by serving others. People say, “Well, you’re the head coach, it’s your football team.” It’s not my football team. It’s the players’ football team. They’ll be as good as they decide to be. We were just brought here to be in a leadership position to help them go where they want to go.


We have four core values we believe in:

No. 1 is a positive attitude. Wake up every single morning with a positive attitude and be very appreciative of the things you have.

No. 2: Have a tremendous work ethic. Don’t let anyone outwork you.

No. 3: Compete in everything you do. Compete in the classroom. Compete in the workforce. Compete on the football field.

And the last thing – which we think is the most important thing – you must be willing to sacrifice. Are you willing to sacrifice things that the common man or woman is not willing to sacrifice to be special? I think it’s so important that people understand that.

I take so much pride in being an East Stroudsburg graduate. I take so much pride in being the head football coach at Penn State and representing all of you and our great state of Pennsylvania. There might be better-looking head coaches in the Big Ten. …You’re supposed to say, “Nooo.” (Audience: “Nooo.”)

There might be smarter head coaches in the Big Ten. (Audience: “Nooo.”)

But nobody is going to outwork us. That’s something we’re going to do every single day to make you proud, to make East Stroudsburg proud, to make the great state of Pennsylvania proud.


Please take time to thank everybody you care about. Both of my parents are deceased. You never know when that time is going to come. Whether it’s parents or uncles or aunts or friends – whoever you care about – make sure you leave here today and go back and tell people how much you appreciate them and how much you love them.

I’m going to leave you with one piece of advice and this might sound strange:

But right now you all are broke college students. Now listen to me, I’m going to say something crazy. Stay broke as long as you possibly can and chase your dreams. Chase your dreams as long as you possibly can, because the minute that money becomes part of your decision process, it changes everything. Chase your dreams as long as you possibly can and the money will come.

Success to everyone. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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