Though it was not the graduation they planned for at the beginning of the school year, the over 80,000 2020 graduates who participated in the 49ers @Home Graduation presented by Chegg were given a virtual ceremony to remember.
Former San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley was the commencement speaker, while defensive end Dee Ford played “Pomp and Circumstance” on the piano.
“Just a few weeks ago, after playing in 192 NFL games, I decided to hang up my cleats,” Staley said in his six-minute speech. “So I know first-hand how hard it is to close a chapter and open a new one during this chaotic and uncertain time. But I also know we will get through this and come out stronger. Being able to move forward and graduate despite the hurdles that this pandemic has thrown your way, speaks to your resilience. Whether you’re leaving elementary, middle, high school, college, or vocational school — hold your head high, be proud, and know that you are ready for this. You’ve prepared hard and now is the time to get out there and make your dreams come true.”
The mood of the ceremony was one of hope for the future, despite the difficult time we find ourselves in today.
“You really deserve to be celebrated,” Jerry Rice told the graduates. “We’re going through some tough times right now. But as a country, when we go through adversity, we come back stronger. So you guys enjoy this.”
The 30 minute ceremony also saw congratulatory messages from multiple 49ers’ players, including defensive lineman Arik Armstead, tight end George Kittle, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the 2020 rookie class, running back Raheem Mostert, linebacker Fred Warner and defensive lineman Nick Bosa.
“We can all have a positive impact and create change,” Armstead told the graduates. “Whether simply writing a thank you note to a teacher or an essential worker who has helped to keep us safe, or supporting your local food bank or lending a helping hand to an elderly neighbor, take this time, take this opportunity to give back to your community.”
This message was one that was echoed by head coach Kyle Shanahan.
“…I want to tell you guys, what you did is something to be very proud of,” Shanahan said. “And right now, even though it’s not ideal, I promise it’s going to pass. Don’t waste a moment when we get out of this. Make the best of this opportunity. And when this does pass, come out firing. You have a lot to be proud of.”
CEO Jed York, general manager John Lynch and team president Al Guido sent messages as well.
Staley encouraged graduates to thank the people in their lives: parents, teachers, coaches and, of course, friends. Staley talked a lot about getting by with the help of his friends.
“…Getting to graduation is a team effort and sometimes your friends are the ones that help you cross the finish line — I’ll always remember this past season when George Kittle had three Saints defenders on his back and carried our team to victory,” Staley said. “Being an offensive lineman was all about working with my teammates to get our job done. No egos, no one wanting it just for the credit. Coming together as a group to win the NFC Championship as a team. To me was the most lasting impression of our team last season was the selflessness that everyone on our team exhibited to reach our goals. No one putting individual needs ahead of the team, that attitude will carry you far in life. Be grateful for the people and relationships that help you get to where you want to be and embrace being in that role for someone else.”
As part of the ceremony, the 49ers also recognized the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute’s first graduating class. The SLI is a six-year program that the organization started with Chevron, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and the Santa Clara Unified School District. SLI senior Medha gave a speech to all of her fellow graduates.
As his speech was coming to a close, Staley shared three life lessons:
- Enjoy the moment.
- Stick with it.
- Get to know the people around you.