By J.C. Watts
(J.C. Watts, former chairman of Oklahoma´s Corporation Commission,
is the U.S. representative from the 4th District of Oklahoma.)
As presented to students in Altus, Oklahoma
There are three lies in America today that I want every one of you to be aware of. The first lie is this: "I am entitled to one mistake." Young people, that lie will trip you up every time if you believe you are entitled to mistakes. We all MAKE mistakes, but we are not ENTITLED to mistakes. If you live your life believing that you are entitled to mistakes, you will bounce from wall to wall, never having any substance, never having any direction in your life.Now, you all might be too young to remember a story about a man named Len Bias. Len Bias was a power forward for the University of Maryland. He had just been drafted by the Boston Celtics. He was going to be the guy, along with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, that was going to get the Celtics back to the NBA championships. Six foot nine inches tall, two hundred twenty pounds...he was a Michael Jordan kind of a guy. He could handle the ball well, shoot the ball well, jump well, and dribble the ball well. I mean six foot nine inches tall, two hundred twenty pounds and he was cat-quick! Len Bias was the first player taken out of the NBA draft picks about 8 years ago. Len Bias had some friends, so-called friends, come by. They were going to celebrate him being the first player taken in the NBA draft. They´d brought by a little crack cocaine. Len Bias tried this crack cocaine, his heart didn´t respond to it, and it killed him in a matter of minutes. Now, I don´t know if Len Bias was a regular drug user or not. I can´t say that as a matter of fact. But I can´t help but think--in the back of my mind--that Len Bias thought--in the back of his mind-- "hey, no big deal. I´m only human. I´m entitled to mistakes. So what if I get caught, so what if I get busted, so what if something bad happens. So what, I´m only human. I´m entitled to celebrate." Len Bias was saying "I´m entitled to one mistake." Young people, that one mistake cost him his life. You see, that is why we should not live our lives believing that "I´m entitled to mistakes"--we MAKE mistakes, but we are not ENTITLED to them. The second lie is this, and this one is the one that really gets many junior high and high school students. It got me just as it does many junior high and high school students. The second lie is "it will never happen to me." Young people, we believe that. We believe that all those bad things that happen in life happen to other people, and will never happen to me. We tell ourselves that--it will never happen to me. There´s an incident that I experienced about 6 years ago that if I live to be 150 years old I will never forget. I am a big National Basketball Association fan. The LA Lakers have been and are still my favorite basketball team. I used to love to see the Lakers play when they had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, all those guys. I used to love to see them play! Magic Johnson was my favorite basketball player. I loved to see Magic Johnson come down the court. He´d whip that ball between his legs dribbling, he´d flip it behind his back to the left, he´d flip it to the right. He would dish out those marvelous assists to James Worthy or Michael Cooper coming down the wing and man, they´d make those fast breaks, and slam dunk the ball. Magic would dish out those marvelous assists and he would turn around to the crowd and he would flash that big billion dollar smile. Man, I used to love to see that, to see him perform. My favorite basketball player. I remember coming home one evening from work, it was about 5 or 6 years ago. I remember throwing my coat over the back of the couch and watching this press conference with my favorite basketball player, Magic Johnson...6´9" 215 lbs., point guard for the L.A. Lakers, huge billion dollar smile, this guy I loved to see play. Do you know what he said to all of the youth of America? I´ll never forget it, it still rings in my ears today. Magic Johnson was having a press conference and he said this... "I guess I was naive, I never thought it would happen to me." Do you know what Magic was talking about? What he said he thought would never happen to him? Magic Johnson had been tested positive for HIV. He said "I guess I was naive--I never thought it would happen to me." And that rings in my ears to this day. Magic talked about it. I heard him say it time and time again"I was naive, I never thought it would happen to me." Young people, we do things that we know aren´t right and that we shouldn´t be doing and do you know what we tell ourselves? "Ah, it´ll never happen to me, I´ll never get caught." I remember about 5 years ago I had my truck stolen--in broad daylight. I remember when I called the police to come do a written report on this. I remember standing there leaning on that desk thinking "I can´t believe this is happening to me". That happened to other people. I saw it on the news, I read about it in the paper, but I never thought it would happen to me...but it did. Everybody knows Pete Rose. Pete Rose, no question, should be in Major League Baseball, but Pete Rose got kicked out of Major League Baseball because he was gambling on baseball--that´s against the rules. I can´t help but think--in the back of my mind--that Pete thought--in the back of his mind--when he was placing those bets, he was saying "ah, that´ll never happen to me, I´ll never get caught." Young people, what if someone would have come to us when we made some of those bad decisions, someone of some influence could have gotten to me when I made some of those bad decisions in my life, or someone could have gotten to the teachers when they were making bad decisions in their lives, or if someone could have gotten to Pete Rose or Magic Johnson. Consider if some person of influence could have gotten there and said "hey, Magic, hey Pete, is it worth the rest of your life? Is it worth losing your reputation, losing your career over, the rest of your life, what you´ve done?" Young people it can happen to you. The third lie is this, and be careful that you understand this one. "I´ve got plenty of time." Young people, do you know what we tell ourselves? We think "man, I´m going to be a professional baseball player, I´m going to be a professional basketball player! I don´t have to worry about that math stuff, that reading stuff, that English stuff and that science stuff. I don´t have to worry about that stuff, I´ve got plenty of time for that!" Young people, you don´t have plenty of time. You are in an institution today and you should thank God for those people you see standing around the walls. They call them teachers. You should thank God that you´ve got those teachers that will push you and force you to do what you know, and they know, you are capable of doing. We get so interested in so many other things that are totally irrelevant to our abilities to compete in a global marketplace for jobs and to take care of our families and to get the things we want to have, like a car for transportation, and a home to live in. Hey, that math, science, reading, and English, all those things are very important in that effort. We cheat ourselves so badly because we don´t spend the time that we should making sure that we know how to read and write and do the arithmetic and the science and the English, that we have the computer skills that we need. We think, "man, I´ve got plenty of time for that." No you don´t have plenty of time. Today is the day you start preparing for the rest of your life. Today is the first day of the rest of your life and I hope that you will start preparing today. In summary, the three lies are: "I´m entitled to one mistake"--no, you´re not. We MAKE mistakes, but we are not ENTITLED to them. The second lie is..."it will never happen to me." Yes, young people, it can happen to you. And the third lie is this..."I´ve got plenty of time"--you don´t have plenty of time. Understand reading, writing, arithmetic, and have the computer skills to compete in the age of technology and computers. Today is the day you start preparing for the rest of your life. I don´t know how many of you believe that going to college is important. Some of you may go to vocational school, some of you may go to work right after high school. I don´t know what you are going to do, but I hope that you will understand this--that good things happen to people that will work hard, pay the price, understand sacrifice and commitment, will take pride in getting an education and will have enough faith to believe that "I can do." If you believe that doesn´t work--I hope that you will take a good look at the gentleman standing here before you. I hope that you will decide that America really is a great country. That it is a place that I want to be, to raise my family, to work, to contribute to society. Because if a little kid from Eufala, Oklahoma, who grew up in a poor black neighborhood on the east side of the railroad tracks can some day grow up and end up in the U.S. House of Representatives, that tells you that we live in a pretty good country.