ESPN commentator shares real-world advice with students
By Eric Coker
Position yourself to have a post-college career instead of simply a job, sports journalist and ESPN television personality Stephen A. Smith told Binghamton University students during a Black History Month speech on Feb. 22.
"A job is doing what you've got to do to pay the bills and maintain your quality of life," he said. "A career is doing what you want to do. It doesn't feel like work."
Smith, who is featured weekdays on ESPN's "First Take," was the keynote speaker for the Black Student Union's month of festivities. He spoke to a crowd of nearly all students in a packed Lecture Hall 1, offering real-world advice (without any notes, papers or props) for 40 minutes. He then took questions from the audience for another half hour.
"I always look forward to speaking to college students because I know you all think you know a lot, but the things you don't know are very glaring," he said. "You don't know the world that awaits you because you haven't been in it yet.
"It's dog-eat-dog out there and you'd better be in school getting yourself ready to handle the business necessary in order to be successful or you're not going to just be passed by. You are going to get stomped on and walked over."
The advent of the technological age means that not everyone is qualified to work, Smith said.
"If you aren't qualified, you can't make money," he said. "If you can't make money, you're broke. If you're broke, you are a problem – because you are going to see to it that you cause problems for other people. ... This is the real world. You have to be motivated to conquer it."
Smith offered several tips for students to succeed in corporate America today.
The first tip: There is no avoiding communication.
"You can't think that your laptop is your best friend," he said. "If you're not elevating your communicative skills, you are going to be lost."
Tip No. 2: Don't point the finger at others.
"If you are black, stop pointing at race," he said. "If you are white, stop pointing at affirmative action. ... Corporate America doesn't care. It has no compassion. It has no mercy. Only what you can do makes you relevant."
Tip No. 3: When meeting a professor or potential employer, always ask: "What can I do for you?"
"Every day that you are in class, you have to think about how you can become valuable," he said. "How can I make money for somebody else? If I can make money for somebody else, I can make money for me."
Smith emphasized that there is a difference between "popularity" and "value." The former simply means that someone is known, while the latter term refers to someone who can generate money for others.
"I'm a proud capitalist," he said. "I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. I believe in getting paid. It's the American way. If you pay $100,000 for your education and you get a job paying $15,000, you've got a problem. If my education costs $100,000, I'm trying to make a million."
Another tip: Use the assets around you and get rid of the liabilities.
"If you've got a sister who's smart, use her," he said. "If you have someone in your dorm room eating all of your food, they've got to go!"
Smith stressed that even if success develops in corporate America, it can all disappear with one mistake.
"You have to be diligent in the pursuit of excellence," he said. "You have to be careful how you act, especially if you are black because the odds are stacked against you.
"What black Americans have to understand and accept is that other ethnic groups have issues, too. This is not the 1950s; this is not the 1960s. White folks don't owe us. Decency, respect, equal opportunity: That's all you are owed. Do you know the No. 1 reason that whites don't owe us anything? A lot of them are suffering, too."
Today's college education is training students for understanding, socializing and learning to adjust to different people, Smith said. The skills that come with it, though, are expanded in the real world.
"You develop (these skills) when you arrive in corporate America because somebody deemed you worthy of being taught," he said. "If you are an individual who proves to be unworthy, you will be left behind. It's that simple."
Real-world success in the 21st century is another challenge for African-Americans to meet, Smith concluded. It is a challenge that he is confident about.
"If you are black, look at the numbers and pay attention," he said. "The numbers are not on our side. But if you look at our history, one of the things we've always done is overcome. This is the latest thing we have to overcome. There is no reason on Earth why we can't do it now."
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