By Joe Garvey

When members of Old Dominion University’s fall Class of 2022 entered Chartway Arena on Saturday, they probably weren’t aware they had a little Kobe Bryant in them.

Jay Harris, the featured speaker at the University’s 137th Commencement Exercises, assured them that they did. 

a man wearing academic regalia gives a speech standing at a podium

Harris, an ESPN SportsCenter anchor and an ODU alum, related a story about Bryant missing jump shots he usually makes during a pregame warmup. Bryant was sure something was wrong with the basket. He knew it was too low – by a quarter of an inch. He called maintenance staffers over to check. Sure enough, he was right.

“Now, you might be saying, ‘Hey Jay, nice story, but why’d you tell it? What does the late, great, Hall of Fame legend, five-time NBA champion Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant have to do with me?' Everything,” Harris said. “Because he is you.”

Harris explained what he meant.

“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 on the basketball court to make a bucket from different spots on the court,” Harris continued. “You know the rim is a quarter of an inch too low because you put in the work. Like you have. You've focused. Like you have. You're driven, like you are. Even if you needed a little extra help, or extra incentive, or extra time, or extra focus, or extra work. You are here. Today. Ready. And you even navigated a pandemic along the way. I mean, really. You were ready for a whole new world doing all new things. There is something in you, that Monarch DNA I like to call it, that got you to this point in time. It got you to this place.”

“You’re stepping forward today. And I need you to keep stepping tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that.” - Jay Harris

Nearly 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students received degrees in two ceremonies. The first, at 9 a.m., celebrated graduates of the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Sciences and the School of Cybersecurity. The 12:30 p.m. event recognized the newest alumni of the College of Arts and Letters, Strome College of Business, College of Health Sciences and the Graduate School.

“Your time at ODU developed your ability to listen with a critical ear and think with an open mind,” said President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. “This institution has prepared you for a life of service: not only to self and family, but to those in need. I am confident you will take your Monarch values with you on the journey ahead.”

Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1987 and served two four-year terms on the Board of Visitors, was presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) from President Hemphill and Rector Bruce Bradley.

“You are officially a double alumnus of Old Dominion University,” President Hemphill said.

“I’m Dr. Jay!” Harris quipped.

In his introductory remarks, Athletic Director Wood Selig noted that “Hampton Roads and Old Dominion University have Jay’s heart.”

“While ODU is well-represented in the professional sports ranks with three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Justin Verlander and Washington Commanders starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke leading the way, no ODU alum packs more of a day-to-day presence and punch than our very own Jay Harris,” he added.

Harris gave a warm shoutout and shared an embrace on the stage with his lifelong friend Ricardo Cortez Randall, who received his Ph.D. in educational leadership. He told the graduates that each of their journeys will be unique.

“Many of my friends and classmates walked off this campus straight into careers and got paid. I didn’t,” he said, noting that it took him a year and half to land his first media job – working for free to start. “My path was my path. Your path will be your path. The person next to you will have their path. Whatever your path, just keep going. Follow your passion, your dreams, your talents and your desires. Even when you hear the word no.”

He said the noes he heard early on paved the way for the yesses that came later. He urged them to draw on the poem “Invictus” when things get tough and to keep three “rules” in mind as they chart their futures:

“Rule No. 1: If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it. Rule No. 2: If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. Rule No. 3: If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.”

“You’re stepping forward today,” he added. “And I need you to keep stepping tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that.”