Matthew Bresee at the podium
Image: RFrank Photography

Commencement remarks: Alumnus Matthew Bresee, president of the Erie BayHawks

Penn State alumnus Matthew T. Bresee, class of 2000, gave the Commencement Address at the college’s fall commencement on Dec. 15.

Bresee is president of the Erie BayHawks, the NBA G League affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks. He joined the BayHawks as vice president of operations prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2008 and was promoted to president in 2009. A communications and media studies graduate, he is a 2012 recipient of the Penn State Alumni Association’s Alumni Achievement Award, an annual honor given to graduates who demonstrate extraordinary professional accomplishment before the age of 35.

The title of his address was “Your Story.”

Chancellor Ford, distinguished faculty, staff, parents, family members, alumni and of course today’s prestigious graduates of the Class of 2017…I am grateful, humbled, and excited about the opportunity to speak with you today. Today is your day.

I feel so at home here. I had four great years here at Behrend and as Dr. Ford mentioned I now live just a few minutes from here, and we are on a basketball court right now, too. So I feel right at home. 

Everyone has a unique story. Where you’re from, your heritage, your family, your field of study and so on. It’s the combination of all those that makes each of us unique, and it’s important that we celebrate and embrace the diversity of our individual stories. 

Imagine if every book in the library had the same cover and told the same story? Or if every Snapchat story that you and all your friends posted were all the same?  Fortunately, that’s not the case and we have endless amounts of content to tell, share, or snap. 

And while all of our stories are unique, they most certainly have some similarities. Times of joy and sadness, accomplishment and defeat, moments of frustration and, of course, time for celebration, such as days like today. 

It’s inspiring to look around this room and think about all the stories that are presumably just getting started. 

For me and my story, I’ve been blessed with great opportunities over the years, not the least of which was the opportunity to attend Behrend 20 years ago.

Like it did for me, Behrend has now provided you a tremendous foundation from which to continue your story.

The road won’t always be easy and at times will seem long. I got my first job in professional sports at age 17, the summer before my freshman year at Behrend. My main functions of the job? Wash the team’s laundry and mop the locker room floors. I was literally doing the dirty work. 

During those nights of washing uniforms until the wee hours of the morning, I wasn’t exactly sure where that experience would lead me. But reflecting back, it was an important first step in what would eventually take the form of a career path. 

We live in a world where we’re seemingly always in the pursuit of instant gratification, but often the steps along a career path require time, patience and likely some level of perseverance. 

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said “It takes time to create excellence. If it could be done quickly, more people would do it.”  

You will at times have difficult decisions to make along the way. You may agonize over the decision of whether or not to change jobs. You might stress thinking about if you should relocate for a new opportunity. Maybe you will lose sleep over the thought of starting your own business. 

I’ve been there. Almost 10 years ago I left a stable job at Erie Insurance to follow my passion and return to work in professional sports. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I followed by heart and jumped at the opportunity. (I also made sure my wife approved.)  

My wish for all of you is to be able to follow your passion and do something you love to do, keeping in mind that if you want something you’ve never had, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done. That might mean following your gut, chasing your passion or taking a leap of faith. 

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An invaluable part of your story are the relationships made along the way. 

I’m proud to say I still have relationships with some of the Behrend faculty and staff from my days here. I’d encourage you to stay in touch with the people here who have helped you get to this point. 

As you go from here, find additional mentors and role models whom you want to learn from and model yourself after. Surround yourself with people of high character. People who are honest and trustworthy. People with integrity. 

We all have those people in our lives that can serve as great examples for us, mentors and teachers who possess those qualities which we can identify with and desire to live by. I’m going to bet for many of you, some of those people whom you admire and look up to are here in this room. 

When the opportunity arises, be a mentor yourself. Pay it forward and help others, as you’ve been helped. 

I have a story I like to share about a mentoring experience I was a part of.  

Thanks to Behrend, I had a special opportunity seven years ago to meet a young man named Ismael through the FastStart mentoring program. FastStart is sponsored by the Educational Equity and Diversity program here and it matches local Behrend alumni with freshmen students who opt into the program. 

During one of the first times I met Ismael, he told me of his difficult upbringing and that he came to Behrend determined to make something of himself to not end up like his father or older brother. Both had spent time in prison and gotten mixed up in drugs. 

The more I got to know Ismael, I became inspired by him and by his drive and conviction to break the cycle in his family and find a path to success.     

Ismael graduated from Behrend in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. After graduation, we hired him to work for our team before he attended the police academy and he now works as a police officer.    

Needless to say I’m extremely proud of him and impressed by what he’s accomplished. He is another Behrend success story, and someone who is still a friend to this day. But it was our relationship that began in a mentoring program that actually gave me as the mentor far more fulfillment than I ever anticipated.  

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Finally, I’ll leave you with this: When you think about your story remember that it’s just that – your story. Therefore, you get to have your own definition of success or happiness. Not someone else’s version of success, and not the way society might try and define what makes each of us successful or happy, but your own set of ambitions and goals for what you want your life to be, both professionally and personally. 

So persevere through the challenges. Trust your gut. Follow your passion. And pay it forward at every opportunity. 

Take time to reflect back on the previous chapters you’ve written and dream about what chapters lie ahead.  

So from one Behrend graduate to another, I welcome each of you as fellow Penn State alumni and wish you the best of success. Be you and be great. 

Congratulations and good luck. Thank you.