Giving the commencement speech at his alma mater May 17, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman encouraged University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduates to continue to learn.
Tillman explained to the large crowd that he was taught that valuable lesson during a trip to Champaign, Ill., along with other Bears rookies back in 2003.
“It was probably one of the best life lessons I’ve ever learned,” he said. “We were given a task to memorize a mantra, and I live my life by this mantra. Basically it goes like this: Learning is the beginning of health, wealth, future and fortune. You can multiply your life by two, by four, by five, by 10 if you don’t neglect to learn.
“I take great pride in knowing that I try to learn something every year that I’m in the NFL. And what I take from that phrase or quote is that I don’t care how old you are, you can always learn something new. I’m 33 years old and I’m in graduate school right now. I’m always trying to learn something new and I inspire you guys to do the same.”
Tillman played four seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette from 1999-2002. Off the field, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in just three-and-a-half years.
Before being selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Tillman was a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection at the school. He concluded his college career with 284 tackles, 12 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and three blocked punts. He was inducted into Louisiana-Lafayette’s sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
During his commencement speech, Tillman encouraged graduates to make their mark in life.
“Everyone can interpret that a different way,” he said. “To me, that means to be bold, to stand out, to not be afraid, to do something and to take a chance and risk something.”
Tillman explained that there are three keys to making your mark.
“The first is competition,” he said. “Competition brings out the best in everybody. You find out who you really are and what you’re made of when you compete.
“The second one is teamwork. You learn about being selfless, about putting it on the line for somebody else and what it takes when you get knocked down to pick yourself back up.
“The third is what’s next. Once you get your diplomas, you’re going to walk out those doors and step into the real world and you’re going to wonder what’s next. After that, mental toughness comes into play. I call it the strangest secret. To me, the strangest secret is we become what we think about. Good thoughts, bad thoughts, your mind will always return what you plant.”
Tillman also shared the tips he uses to prepare for games, comprising the acronym “SCORE.”
“For me to get into a zone when I’m playing in front of 100,000, 60,000, Monday Night Football, whatever it is … these are the tips I’ve used for every single game the last 11 years,” he said.
“S … Self-discipline. This is something you have to do; habits, rituals. You have to pay the price.
“C … Concentration. This is intense focus; keeping your eye on the prize, keeping your eye on the target. You can’t hit your target if you take your eye off it.
“O … Optimism. No negative self-talk. No matter what happens, you always have to be optimistic and positive about whatever’s going on.
“R … Relax. You can’t get in the zone if you’re tight.
“E … Enjoyment. That’s really just having fun.”
Tillman closed his speech with a simple message.
“Some people believe that you have to be famous, wealthy or influential to be memorable,” he said. “The people who inspire me the most are the ones that follow their passions in life and strive to help others. I hope I can be an inspiration to others by walking my talk.”