NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – ESPN SportsCenter anchor and Old Dominion University alum Jay Harris returned to his alma mater and called on graduates to follow their own path and their own dreams during the school’s 137th commencement exercises Saturday at Chartway Arena.

Harris, a Norfolk native who received a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from ODU in 1987, told the graduates that it was their ‘Monarch DNA’ that helped them navigate a global pandemic to reach this point in their lives. Approximately 2,000 students received degrees during two ceremonies.

He shared a story told to him about a friend of his, Gerald Henderson Jr., who played basketball at Duke and was, at that time, a rookie NBA player in Charlotte. Henderson’s team was going up against the Los Angeles Lakers and the late Kobe Bryant.

About 45 minutes before the game, Henderson observed Bryant warming up by himself, taking jump shots, and he was missing much more than he was making. Bryant stopped warming up at one point and motioned for maintenance personnel to come to the court. After speaking with them, there was a lot of activity under the basket.

Bryant walked over to Henderson and told him he was missing shots he doesn’t miss, and said he thought the rim was about a quarter-inch too low. The rim was adjusted and the game concluded, with Henderson asking the maintenance personnel what was up with the rim.

Sure enough, the rim was “a little lower than regulation.” By how much? A quarter-inch.

Harris asked the question he figured the graduates were asking – what the story had to do with them.

“Everything,” Harris said in answering his own question. “Because the issue – see, the only way you know a rim is a quarter of an inch too low is because you put up enough shots to know exactly how much force and arc you need to make a bucket from different spots on the basketball court.

“You know the rim is a quarter of an inch too low because you put in the work, like you have. You have focused like you have. You’re driven like you are. Even if you needed a little extra help, a little extra incentive, a little extra time, extra focus, extra work, you are here.”

He said calling it a commencement was much better than a graduation, because a commencement points to a beginning, rather than the word graduation, which he said “sounds like an ending.”

“Your entire life is about to commence,” Harris said, “and, like the commercial says, ‘This life is going to come at you fast.’ You may have a job lined up, and that’s great. You may not, and that’s great too.”

Harris spoke about the poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, and an analysis of it. It described Invictus as “a poem which focuses on the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity. It is a rallying cry for those who find themselves in dark and trying situations. We have to dig deep and fight for their lives.”

Harris said, in relating his own story, that each person’s life journey is uniquely theirs, and to persevere in the face of rejection and fight for their own lives.

“Your path will be your path,” Harris said. “The person next to you will have their own path. Whatever your path, just keep walking it. Just keep going. Follow you passion, your dreams, your talents and your desires. Follow your path, even when you hear the word ‘no.'”

He said the yesses that he did get were the result of following “three simple rules in life,” and he knows there are three, he joked, “because I saw them on the internet, so it must be true.”

His three rules?

“Rule number one: If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it,” Harris said. “Rule number two: If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. And rule number three: If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.

“You are stepping forward today, and I appreciate you for that. And I need you to keep stepping tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.”