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Mary Carillo urges Class of 2014 to always act with compassion

In a Saturday morning Commencement address, the acclaimed sportscaster and former professional tennis star encouraged Elon University’s Class of 2014 to be guardians of the planet by showing kindness and respect to everyone they meet.


Mary Carillo P'14 hugs her daughter, Rachel Bowden, at Elon University's 124th Commencement Exercises on May 24, 2014. Carillo served as Commencement speaker in a ceremony where Bowden was awarded her college degree in business management.

PHOTO GALLERY: Elon University's 124th Commencement Exercises

No matter the career an Elon University graduate chooses to pursue in life, award-winning sportscaster Mary Carillo has a bit of advice learned firsthand from her earliest days on television: "Treat it like it is the most important job you’ll ever have.”

Dedication to a job helps build your reputation, Carillo said on May 24, 2014, to graduating seniors gathered "Under the Oaks" of campus for the university's 124th Commencement Exercises. And a strong work ethic does wonders in developing your name.

"There is a distinct thrill to committing to something, to being ‘all in,’” Carillo told graduates and the thousands of family and friends gathered around them to celebrate their college graduation.

School leaders conferred degrees on Saturday morning to 1,207 students who have spent their college careers conducting research, traveling overseas and volunteering in the community as part of their studies. The Class of 2014 is the largest in institutional history, and the ceremony served as a book end to the university's 125th anniversary year.

The tennis analyst told her audience of never attending college or even doing well in high school where she considered herself a "jock." Though successful on the court, her professional tennis career ended by the age of 23, and Carillo found herself in search of new opportunities. She discovered her passion in coaching and, eventually, covering sports for television networks.

“Get into something and see where it takes you. If you really seem to like it, get good at it," she said. "There’s nothing like competence. Your bosses will recognize it and appreciate that quality immediately.”

Her decision to stick with sports reporting is rooted in the stories she uncovers from athletes of all types: men and women, young and old, the winners and the losers. Carillo said that human resilience is on full display in athletic competitions, and it's the pursuit of such spirit that makes her job so rewarding. She's especially impressed by those who persevere through failure.

“It’s one of the best qualities to have, the ability to reset after you’ve taken a hard hit," Carillo said. "I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the human spirit in full flight in incredible ways.”

Most importantly, Carillo said, is the impact graduates can make on the planet through simple acts of love and respect.

"I'm not asking you kids to change the whole world. But if you’re kind, you’re doing far more than you know. There’s nothing more powerful than kindness," she said. "If you’re kind to people, if you change one life because of how you treat someone, and if that person in turn is kind to someone else, that’s how this great spinning world of ours really changes."

Carillo serves as a sports as a sports analyst for CBS, NBC and the Tennis Channel. The former professional tennis star toured from 1977 to 1980 and cemented her legacy when she won the mixed doubles with John McEnroe at the 1977 French Open.

Since then, her analyses and insights for various sports networks have earned her accolades throughout the industry, including the distinction of being named “Best Sports Analyst of the Decade” by Sports Illustrated. She currently works as a correspondent for HBO Sports on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

Carillo has covered a dozen Olympic Games, including the February 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Her quip at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City that men’s doubles luge is “like a bar bet gone bad” was recognized as “line of the year” in many sports television columns and remains one of the most memorable commentaries in recent Olympics history.

Carillo received two Peabody Awards for work on the HBO documentary “Billie Jean King, Portrait of a Pioneer” and for co-writing with Frank Deford the HBO documentary “Dare to Compete: The Struggle of Women in Sports.” She has been named "Best Commentator" by Tennis Magazine and World Tennis Magazine, and “Broadcaster of the Year” by the Women’s Tennis Association. Carillo has co-authored two books: “Tennis My Way” with Martina Navratilova, and “Tennis Kinetics” with Rick Elstein.

Carillo’s daughter, Rachel, graduated Saturday from Elon with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration after majoring in management. And within hours of her remarks, Carillo was scheduled to be enroute to Paris where she would shortly be covering the very same event that she conquered with McEnroe in 1977.

“I adore you,” said Carillo, fighting tears as she addressed her daughter from the podium. “Your dad, and all the rest of our family, are very proud of you, both those who are here and those who wish they were. You have changed our lives in so many ways.”

Graduates on Saturday also heard from Melissa Jordan ‘04, the outgoing interim director of Elon University’s Multicultural Center, and Connor O’Donnell, president of the Class of 2014. Jordan’s remarks emphasized the power of an Elon family that will support and encourage alumni through all stages of life.

Graduates come from an institution that prides itself on setting goals and devising plans to meet them, she said. “Be fearless,” Jordan said. “Go out into the world and leave your mark.”

O’Donnell reflected on the anxiety and excitement that comes with entering the professional world. Personal growth took place within the boundaries of curriculum requirements and grading rubrics. he said, but now that college is over, graduates must navigate a world where achievements and success aren’t so clearly defined.

“We’re confirming a change within ourselves. As we walk across this stage, we’re transitioning from bright-eyed teenagers from four years ago to driven and ambitious adults,” he said. “Our path is no longer set. There’s no more set structure, no more footprints to guide you. That’s exciting. That’s energizing. That’s liberating. Make this university proud, but more importantly, make yourself proud.”

In his charge to graduates to close the ceremony, Elon President Leo M. Lambert instructed members of the Class of 2014 to act as a family and to “take care of each other. Live a life of kindness, compassion and generosity.”

He reminded graduates of the power that comes with an education. “On this special day, savor the transformation and growth you have experienced over the past four years at Elon,” Lambert said. “Leave here knowing deeply what a powerful force education is to make things better for everyone. Education can win out over poverty. Education can win out over ignorance. Education will increase prosperity. Education will increase freedom and democracy.

“There are a thousand ways as Elon alumni that you can share the power of education with others. Be a mentor to a young person. Advocate for schools in your communities. Invest in vulnerable young children. Thank a teacher. That diploma you are holding in your hands represents power. Use it to give others the same gifts you have received.”

Lambert also shared with graduates the meaning behind a young oak sapling that each member of the Class of 2014 would receive as a gift from the Office of Alumni Engagement following the ceremony.

“Plant your young tree, and let it serve as a reminder that you have been prepared by your education to be a strong force for good in the world,” Lambert said. “Remember, too, that we are the Phoenix.  We have faith in the promise of renewal and of new beginnings.

“God bless and God speed. Long live Elon!”

Eric Townsend,
5/27/2014 2:00 PM