Why you should commit to lifelong learning

The following blog post is a transcript of the ethics speech that Director of Athletics David Holm delivered to Middle School students and faculty. Holm recounts the lessons he has learned during a professional career dedicated to teaching, coaching and mentoring.

I wanted to share with you my story in hopes that it may help you either today or in the future. There are three themes that I want to emphasize today. Take advantage of your opportunities, put yourself in a position to create opportunities, and commit yourself to lifelong learning.

I began my teaching and coaching career in southern Louisiana. One-thousand miles directly south from the only home that I ever knew: Madison, Wisconsin. Madison was, and is, a great place to grow up and go to school. Family and friends are still there, and it will always be home. I was very comfortable in Madison, but I needed to grow. I wanted to teach and coach. If I stayed in Madison, I would start out as a substitute teacher and within a couple of years I would have a full-time position. I didn't want to be a substitute, I wanted my own class. So I decided that I would go anywhere in America to teach and coach, get some experience, and move back to Wisconsin and stay there for the rest of my life. I attended a job fair at the beginning of the summer. School districts from all over the country came to Madison to recruit teachers.

I met with a school district from Louisiana, and they offered me a position teaching and coaching. Here was my opportunity. An opportunity that would completely change my life and my well-thought plans. When I arrived at my new school in Louisiana, my jaw dropped, and I could not believe what I had gotten myself into.

Wild chickens ran across the parking lot, the school was located next to a sugarcane field that went on for miles, and across the road was the bayou. I was in the heart of Cajun country. I almost immediately questioned my decision, and after a dozen or so tear-filled phone conversations with my father he offered me this advice: Work hard, do your best, immerse yourself into the school and the culture, and enjoy the opportunity to live in a different part of the country.

He said, "Tough it out for a year and you can always come home." And so I did. I taught history and government, was an assistant football coach and head girls varsity basketball coach. My new colleagues welcomed me with open arms and took it upon themselves to show me everything about southern Louisiana and their Cajun culture. They had never met anyone from Wisconsin and were excited to have me there. Crawfish boils, étouffée, zydeco music, and LSU football games on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium (known as Death Valley) quickly became a significant part of my life. And then there was the bayou, truly a fascinating beauty both in the day and night. I learned about frogging and alligator identification.

The teaching was great, and I could not help to think that I was making a difference. Coaching high school football in Louisiana was simply unbelievable, a real live Friday Night Lights experience. When I became head coach, I had regular weekly radio and television spots. One of the many experiences that I had coaching was an incredible state playoff game. We played Newman High School out of New Orleans. We were really good, and so were they. They had a quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning. We lost 36–30 in overtime. Watching him on tape and in person, there was no doubt he was something special.

One of the other opportunities that I had in Louisiana was graduate school. A benefit about teaching in Louisiana is that the state would pay for teachers to get their master's degrees in education administration. At the time, I had no desire to be an administrator, I didn't want to leave the classroom and push around a bunch of papers. So once again I sought council from my dad, who reminded me that while I didn't want to leave the classroom now, there might become a time when I would like to become an administrator, and he suggested that I take advantage of this and see where it goes. He was right. I worked hard, enjoyed the study, and learned a great deal. And sure enough, when I finished the program, another opportunity presented itself. An opportunity that I had now helped to create.

I was offered the position of dean of students, history teacher, and football coach at a large Catholic high school in suburban Chicago. My master's degree coupled with my teaching and coaching experiences in Louisiana put me in this position, and after six wonderful years in southern Louisiana it was time to continue my growth.

Chicago was great. The prestigious school that became my new home was part of the Chicago Catholic League and, again, the teaching and coaching were intense, and I immersed myself into the school and the community. I loved it. And it was in Chicago that another life lesson was reinforced: the importance of striving to be the best at whatever you do.

I had been a head high school coach and now I went back to being an assistant coach, and so I wanted to be the best assistant coach that I could be. At this time, I had really been bitten by the coaching bug, and wanted to coach college football. I knew that it would be a longshot. The head coach that I worked for in Chicago became my mentor. He was a man of great character and integrity. I learned an awful lot from him, and he helped me get my chance to coach in college. He reached out to the head football coach at Georgetown University and told the coach, "If you have any openings, you should hire this guy." I later found out that when the Georgetown coach asked why he should hire me, my head coach told him that I was the best assistant coach he had ever had.

I was excited when Bob Benson, the head football coach at Georgetown University, called me. My wife was from Washington, D.C., so coaching at Georgetown would be perfect. Her family and friends all lived there. Coach and I had a nice phone conversation and this is probably the most significant moment regarding my career: Coach Benson knew that my wife and I would come visit Washington from time to time, so he said, "Next time you're in Washington, swing by and say hello." So I said, "As a matter of fact, I'll be in D.C. this week." I had no plans to be in Washington. But I saw a chance to create an opportunity for myself. And so I found the cheapest last-minute flight I could, and flew to Washington to meet Coach Benson.

Two weeks later, I was hired at Georgetown and spent the next six years coaching football and then serving as assistant athletics director. The experiences that I had coaching college football were fantastic. We competed against Holy Cross, Fordham, Cornell and Lehigh. A Saturday night game at the University of San Diego and a late fall afternoon contest in Miami against Florida International made for some great memories. Every summer, I worked football camps at the University of Colorado and the University of Virginia, and had the opportunity to work with some extraordinary coaches. We transitioned into the Patriot League, and I traveled across the country recruiting Chicago, Louisiana, southern California and Florida. I visited hundreds of high schools and recruited many student-athletes.

I had an opportunity to learn about recruiting from the other side, and that is why I can tell you that grades, effort and character matter. By doing your very best in these endeavors, you will create many opportunities for yourself. And you should also know that this applies to everyone in this room whether you like sports or not, whether you want to play sports in college or not. If you strive to excel in your schoolwork, put forth great effort, and develop a strong and good character, you will put yourself in a position to take full advantage of life's experiences.

While at Georgetown, another lifelong learning opportunity presented itself in the form of graduate school; I was able to take classes and earn a master's degree. The opportunity to study at Georgetown was special, and I took courses from some of finest professors in the world. Courses in constitutional law, national security law, ethics, management, social inequality, and American foreign policy helped further my understanding of the world we live in. I didn't realize it at the time, but those classes would help me teach the talented boys here at Landon, another opportunity that I cherish.

And to you, young men of Landon, I want to share and pass on my father's wisdom: Take full advantage of every opportunity that you get, because you never know where it might lead.

I am here at Landon, able to work with wonderful people and be a part of your growth and development as students and young men. I can't wait to teach and coach you in the Upper School. I hope that you will take away at least a small part of my experiences and use them to help you grow. Please know that my door is always open to you.

My message is simple: Hard work creates opportunities.

You don't have to be the smartest person, you don't have to know everything right now. But if you work hard and commit yourself to always wanting to learn more, you will have opportunities. And, with that, you will be in a position to create your own new opportunities. Landon will help you build this. Your teachers, coaches and mentors will always be here to provide you with guidance and support. Thank you again for letting me speak to you today, and please know how thankful I am to be here with you. Go Bears!

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