The Culture of Competition: PTK Speech [Austin]
By: Dr. Archie Wortham

“It’s when we realize we are not invincible that we accept our mortality. Time makes us mortal.”

Good afternoon. That’s a quote from Jere Myles’ book, “Murder on Michigan Avenue.” Mr. Myles places time in perspective. It’s running out. The year is almost over. According to the Mayan calendar it’s going end on the 21st of this month. So I better hurry.

Dr. Mink, platform guests, PTK members, parents, students, BFFs, ladies and gentlemen…I’m both appreciative and humbled to be here. You know sometimes when people ask you to speak; you wonder if it was that hard to find someone? You wonder what were they thinking; but when they ask you back, you think, “Maybe they’re gluttons for punishment.” So keep that in mind. You are here to be punished, by me, and it’s not my fault.

Before I begin, I want to share something that’s going astound you. Did you know that in the last year each of you could have been arraigned as an accessory to murder? I mean it—each of you. Does that alarm you? I bet you don’t feel too comfortable right now about the person sitting next to, do you? By the way, the only thing in this glass is water. But if you were texting while you were driving today, you could have been an accessory to murder. The Department of Transportation reports that texting while driving is the fastest growing cause of fatalities in our country today. The bumper sticker, “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to see him,” is true. Phones are distracting. They cause fatalities. So for right now, if you have your phones with you, please take them out. Turn them off. I wouldn’t want any fatalities until I’m done. Thank you.

You’re about to become a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Many of you think it’s because you got good grades. Wrong! On the surface that’s true, but it’s really a lie. You’re here because you are good. You are here because you care. You are here because you accepted the invitation. There are many others who got good grades who are not here because they chose not to be. Remember that. You accepted the opportunity. There will be many times in your life when you will have opportunities to join a group, run a race, or excel in a class—make the decision that is right for you. Like when a character in Chariots of Fire, one of my favorite movies, said “I won’t run if I can’t win,” his girlfriend told him, “You can’t win, if you don’t run.” Many times to not choose “is” to choose. It is what it is! Being here today tells me you are in the race to win it. Congratulations.

Today, I’m going to talk about “The Culture of Competition.” I’ll talk about three things: its costs, its consequences, and its challenges as I close with a story that may change your life.

Competition is a fierce thing! It costs. It costs you friends, families, elections. Thank God that’s over. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, the fact you voted is enough. It means you chose to do something important to you.

Competition forces you to make a choice...either get in the race or stand on the sidelines and let life pass you by. And believe me; life will pass without even waving.

Competition costs. Look at Penn State. Look what happened. Their reputation was destroyed. People’s lives destroyed. A legacy tainted forever. For what? A few national football championships? Was it worth it? Some of you will be tempted to cheat to get ahead. Some of you will want to give up because you can’t find the job you were trained for. Some of you won’t be able to win the attention of the love of your life, no matter how many roses you send or how many Tebow’s you do. You feel me?

It’s not going to happen. Grow up! Move on! And I don’t mean ‘hit it and quit it,” I want you to realize there will be potholes in the road; just drive around them, and if you hit a few, they are there to build character. Former Congressman J. C. Watts said, “Character is doing the right thing when no one’s looking.” DON’T give up!!! I’m not sure how many of you have seen Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. She was the 47 year old unemployed woman who felt she’d not been given the chance to be a professional singer. If you saw her on YouTube then you know what she looked like. When you look at her you think “she’s got eyebrows that need to be plucked; a dress that belongs in a garage sale; and hair that needs to be combed.” Yet when she sang, I dreamed a dream, you thought she was Rhiannon, Beyoncé or Taylor Swift...for us older ones…Madonna or Tina Turner.

Susan Boyle didn’t give up. She competed. Did she win? I’m not going to tell you that. Find out!

Competition does cost. It costs time. But it has consequences. It makes you decide what you value. Most important as we move to the second point, competition makes you grow up. Carl Bard says “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start … anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.” He’s talking to EACH of you. It’s never too late. Don’t let people kill your dreams because they think you’re not perfect. I hate people who constantly tell me I didn’t do something right. They’re potholes. Learn to deal with them. No one’s perfect. Well, I was, until I got married. Keep your dreams. Never let anyone take them from you. They die…you die. As we look at the consequences of competition, Max Erhmann writes in a piece called Desiderata, “If you compare yourself with others you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. “Enjoy” your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a “real” possession in the changing fortunes of time.” OWN THAT! Your career is something you possess. Who you are is something you possess. One of the consequences of comparing is people get hung up on size. Size isn’t everything. There will always be someone who has a bigger house, a bigger car or a bigger … minds out the gutter guys; and you girls quit smiling. TAKE Romeo and Juliet for instance. Now there was competition with consequences. And what’s Romeo & Juliet about? I’ll tell you. It’s about two horny teenagers who want to hook up, whose parents can’t stand each other. Now please don’t go tell your English teacher some PhD told you that. But it’s the truth. You will have opportunities to make choices and saying WTF or WWJD isn’t the answer. I’ll tell you what Jesus would do. Jesus would tell you to get up off your lazy ass. Can I say that? I guess I did. My bad. But JC would tell you, He’s not going to do it all for you. That’s one of the consequences of competition. If you are lazy…you’re going to get left behind. Hard work never hurt anyone.

One of the consequences of competition is sometimes we think we’re in the fight all by ourselves. That’s another lie…unless you want it to be that way. If you need help, ask for it. As Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” a Broadway musical said, “There is no shame in being poor, but there’s no great honor in it either.” Not asking for help, especially if you need it, is when competition can really hurt. The result of not asking is you might not accomplish the task. Imagine you’re working out in the gym. You can only press 200 pounds. What’s wrong with having someone spot you to lift 225? Right? Nothing! The consequence could be you might truly hurt yourself simply because you don’t want to be embarrassed. Competition has consequences! I challenge you to meet them head on!

Nadia Comaneci, an Olympic star of the 70s who recorded the first perfect score in gymnastic history says “I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.” You have to run to the end zone to score a touchdown.
Now I’ve talked about costs, consequences, now the story I promised as I talk about challenge:

“One night, at 11:30 P.M., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car.

“A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxi. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address.

“Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read:

"Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving
others. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

There's a saying “Bread thrown on the water comes back to you. The good deed you do today may benefit you or someone you love when you least expect it. If you never see the deed again, you still know you have made the world a better place” - After all, isn't that what life is all about?
Now you’ll have two opportunities. You can remember this story and spread a positive message, or ignore it and pretend you never heard it. The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.

Be careful! It’s much easier to keep a bridge than rebuild one you’ve torn down and never underestimate the power of your actions. One small gesture can change a person's life. Don’t think you can’t…it could be as simple as dropping an extra nickel or quarter in a coke machine; telling a friend not to text while driving; or going to sit with someone at the dining hall so they’re not sitting alone. You can make a difference. Remember "Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."

Now to change your life…I’m a father. I have two sons. I consider myself a good dad because both my sons are still alive. Remember I told you I was perfect until I got married? Well my wife was perfect until we had kids. Now remember this if you don’t remember anything else today—“Parents have a right to say no! You don’t have a right to ask why!” When you learn to respect their decisions, the consequence will be—you’ll make better decisions when you have to make the big ones, particularly when your parents are gone. As parents, we have to learn to let you go…so you will learn how to fly.

Well that’s it. I’ve talked about three things competition costs; competition has consequences, and I told you a story that left you with a challenge I hope may change your life. Don’t be afraid of it. I challenge each of you to grab the torch that’s been given you. Make a difference. Yours is a generation bound for greatness. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. I believe in you. And by the way…stop texting while you drive. I need you to pay taxes so I can be sure to get my social security check. Thank you.