During the school’s commencement ceremony on Sunday (June 12), the president of the Ivy League institution listed the many reasons why Wilson was deserving of such an honor. “For your poise, leadership, and sportsmanship, both on and off the field, for your commitment to improving the lives of others, and for your belief in the power of positivity and helping people reach their full potential, Dartmouth is proud to award you the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters,” Hanlon acknowledged about the 33-year-old before introducing him to the stage.
With Wilson’s late father and three uncles being alumni of the university, the accomplished athlete made sure to mention them in his acceptance speech and challenge the fellow graduates to think of the legacy that they want to leave behind.
“I’m not giving my dad all the credit. My mom, Tammy Wilson, she’s the best,” he said. “She sacrificed daily—late nights working at the hospital, tons of prayer—she helped me reach my dreams. But standing here at my father’s alma mater, looking out over this place that helped him become the man he was…it’s impossible not to think about his legacy.”
He added, “And living with legacy is what I want to talk to you about today. Now, legacy might seem like a strange topic for a commencement speech because, I mean, this is your beginning. You’re just starting out. But, graduates, if there’s one thing I hope to accomplish today, it’s to challenge you not to wait to think about your legacy and what that will be. Because legacy isn’t just something you leave behind. It’s something you build, something you add to every day. My dad, he didn’t get as many days as he deserved. I miss him so much. But because he lived with legacy, he’s never really gone. I hear his voice all the time.”
After speaking on his father’s college experience, Wilson shared memories he had with his father, talked about how he worked hard for the many manifestations in his life, and even mentioned marrying his wife, Ciara.
“Class of 2022, life for you won’t be no crystal stair, he concluded. “There will be tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up, and places with no carpet on the floor. Bare. Your journey will be unpredictable. But I know it will be amazing. And if you ask yourself, ‘Why not me?’ If you remember the king and queen in every crowd. If you carry yourself as though your name carries weight. Then you’ll live a life—and build a legacy—you can be proud of.”
Other celebrities who have received honorary doctorates this year are Colin Kaepernick (Morgan State University), Taraji P. Henson (Howard University), Debbie Allen (Williams College), Billy Porter (Carnegie Mellon University), and Tyler Perry (Emory University).
Watch Wilson’s full speech above.