May 19, 2007

Clayton Berry

'Live Your Life Like Every Day is Opening Day'

Yogi Berra shares words of wisdom, wit with 2007 SLU graduates

A standing ovation greeted baseball legend and St. Louisan Yogi Berra during Saint Louis University's 2007 commencement May 19 at Scottrade Center. Approximately 1,900 students graduated from SLU this year.  Click here for commencement photos.

Berra was one of the greatest catchers and clutch hitters in the history of professional baseball. A 15-time All-Star catcher for the New York Yankees, Berra won the American League MVP award three times. He played in 14 World Series and holds numerous World Series records.

A SLU graduate shows her affection for Yogi Berra.

After leaving the game as a player, Berra had a successful career as a manager with both the New York Yankees and Mets. He is one of only a few managers to have won pennants in both the American and National Leagues. Berra was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Baseball's unofficial ambassador started things off on a light note by talking about what it felt like to be back home in St. Louis ("Feels like deja vu all over again!") and about whether he'd had a chance to visit The Hill, the St. Louis neighborhood where he was born. ("Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.")

Then Berra, who turned 82 on May 12, revealed the wisdom behind many of his most famous "Yogi-isms," the classic quotes and quips that propelled him to pop culture status and made him one of the most quoted sports figures in history.

"Dear graduates, when you come to a fork in the road, take it," Berra said. "In life, the only poor decisions are the ones you don't follow through on. When you leave here today you will have more choices than you ever thought possible. But when you have to make a choice, make it because you believe in it. Then stick to your guns."

Then he addressed one of the quotes that people most often ask him about: "If the world was perfect, it wouldn't be."

"People always tell me that quote I said doesn't make much sense. But all of you understand what I'm saying, right?" he asked the estimated 10,000 graduates, family members and friends in the crowd. "I know you got a good education at SLU. And I'm sure it's opened your eyes to the people in the world who need your help. But most important, your SLU education has prepared you to give that help."

"True. The world isn't perfect. It can be better. And you can make it that way."

Berra and SLU President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., backstage following commencement.

Berra encouraged the graduates to be great at whatever profession they pursue. It's a message he frequently shares with children through his various charity efforts for youth groups.

"Be careful if you don't know where you're going in life, because you might not get there," he said, quoting another classic Yogi-ism. "Wherever you go; whatever you do; be the best you can be. Be the greatest. I always said if I had been a plumber, I would have been a great plumber."

In the end, Berra shared the words of another Hall-of-Famer, Joe DiMaggio, who said he looked forward to opening day like a child looks forward to a birthday party, expecting something wonderful to happen.

"I say to you, class of 2007: Go out and live your life like every day is opening day," Berra said.

During the commencement ceremony University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., conferred honorary degrees upon Berra and four other exemplary individuals:

SLU alumni Joseph and Rosemary Shaughnessy met while at SLU 50 years ago. Joseph Shaughnessy co-founded BSI Constructors, which has helped shape SLU's campus and Grand Center through major building and renovation projects. The Shaughnessys are noted for their commitment to the community and to the Catholic Church.

SLU alumnus Chang-Soo Huh is chairman and chief executive officer of GS Holdings Group, one of the largest corporations in Korea. Conscientious about the social responsibilities of corporations, he created a foundation that has contributed more than $20 million to support health care and educational efforts in Korea.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, is a world-famous physician who was the first person to successfully separate Siamese twins born joined at the back of the head. Carson also is dedicated to sharing the joy of reading with economically disadvantaged children, and he worked with SLU to establish special reading rooms in local public schools.

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An estimated 10,000 people attended SLU's 2007 commencement.

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