Rowdy Gaines

Rowdy Gaines

This is an honor of a lifetime…to be able to stand here with my little brothers and sisters to tell you all how incredibly proud I am of each and every one of you.

But the question has kept coming in my mind since the day I was asked to give this commencement…How in the world does a 64 year old man inspire you in a matter of 7 minutes to tackle this craziness you are about to be handed? Heck, I’m not sure how I would be able to do it if I had 7 hours.

I can only speak to you today from experience…from the experience of going to the greatest institution of higher learning in this county…on this planet.

When I came to Auburn as a skinny little punk from Winter Haven, FL I was just a boy who had no idea what I was doing going to college, much less the skill set to graduate. But I left here maybe not quite yet a man but someone who gained the knowledge and skill set to tackle the real world…because although Auburn might be like living in a fantasyland it has prepared you in so many ways that will help you for the rest of your life.

Reality will strike you hard when you walk out these doors today but I promise you that because of this magical place you have had the honor to be part of over these last few years, the words that you’ve learned here will make a difference. Words like dedication, commitment, responsibility, setting goals and teamwork. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with preaching today. But just think about it….think about what Auburn has taught you these last 3, 4 or 5 years.

It’s Auburn…the people, the buildings, Jordan-Hare on a Sat, Toomers Corner, Bruce and basketball, The Raptor Center, Mama Goldbergs and yes the absolute love and pure joy of this beautiful campus. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Sure, there were times I was not happy here. There were times I wanted to quit or turn and smack my teammate behind me who wouldn’t get off my butt in swim practice.

But in the end, it was all about consistency. Auburn constantly brought me joy, real joy.

I’m sure you all had a lot of peaks and valleys here and trust me there will be so many more in your lifetime. But I have found that the champions I have met in my life are the ones that can live through the peaks…the times you aced an exam or made it home in one piece after a night out…but living through the valleys? Well, that’s a whole different story…and these valleys will be what defines you. Your character will be shaped in these moments. The pits that feel like the end of the world. So that commitment and dedication has to be there in both the highs and lows because buckle up this is going to be one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

The one example I can give you goes back 44 years. I’ll never forget the first time I ever broke my first world record in my sport…next to winning a gold medal in the Olympics it’s the highest level of achievement you can achieve in swimming. The very next day ironically, April 1st, we were notified that our country would officially boycott the Olympic Games. Because the Games are held every 4 years I had to wait 8 years to be able to achieve my dream. But I would swim every lap all over again because to be honest it was never about the gold medal…oh you better believe I wanted to win but when I look back I learned so much more from the journey and yes the defeats than I ever did in the victories. The appreciation, humility, and how the Lord blessed me each and every day were just some of the lessons that I learned and it was all during my time here on the Plains.

The only other word I will tell you about today is teamwork. I won 3 gold medals in the Olympics. I gave one to my mom, one to my dad and one to my coach because I know it would have been impossible to have won those without their love and their support. I had a mentor in my coach here Richard Quick, who had a profound effect on me and the way I live my life to this day. I encourage you to keep developing that rich relationship with a life mentor or mentors…someone that will help you along the way but also tell you the truth. Because you don’t have to face this world alone. There are so many people around you that love and care for you. Rely on that strength.

And THAT is where Auburn really comes into play…because you are now officially part of a family. For the rest of your lives you can pick up the phone and call an alum from any generation or find them on LinkedIn, or email them and you will find a brother, a sister, a second father or mother, but most importantly you will find a friend. That’s just one of many fantastic lessons from the Auburn Creed…the human touch, mutual helpfulness, that brings happiness for all.

I even have a recent example. I’ve been having some struggles lately, some real valleys I was talking about earlier. My amazing wife has been there for me, no doubt. That is always who I turn to in times of trouble. It will always be your immediate family. The bonus is you will also have your Auburn family. I decided to pick up the phone and call an Auburn legend, David Marsh who was my teammate 45 years ago and to this day is still my very best friend. He offered sage advice. THIS is what you have to look forward to the rest of your life. The Auburn family. It’s not just a cliche or a corny phrase. It’s the truth.

I didn’t start swimming until I was 17 years old. I tried out for 5 different sports in high school and got cut in all of them. But I never gave up. I’m not sure if I found swimming or if swimming found me but I’m pleading with you to never give up on your hopes and dreams. I promise you, you all were put on this earth for a very specific purpose. Have patience because each and every one of you has a gift to share with the world.

I want you all to know I am here and always will be as your brother. Your Auburn brother. My email is Reach out anytime.

Good luck, Godspeed and War Eagle.