Biggs, a senior captain and All-Ivy performer for the Men’s Swimming team, delivered the following address as a keynote speaker at the 2011 PVC Awards Banquet.
“First, I want to thank Gary Walters and the entire Princeton Athletic Community for the opportunity to speak here tonight. I am honored to be standing in front of such a diverse and talented group of people.
For those that do not know me, my name is Patrick Biggs, I was captain of the Men’s Swim Team this year and yes, I do love Katy Perry. In our 4 years at Princeton, our varsity teams have won a combined 48 Ivy League Championships, the third most in Ivy League history behind Princeton in 2001 and 2002. Fifteen of those 48 Ivy League Championships came in our senior year, a true testament to the leadership in the class of 2011. We are also one of the last classes to have eaten our post-practice meals at the old Wilcox dining hall; now that place built character.
In the last two and a half months since my last collegiate swim meet, I have had some time to reflect on what Princeton athletics has meant to me. First, I have learned in retirement that it is no longer appropriate to wear a Speedo for four hours a day; people will just give you weird looks if you do. But in all seriousness, being a 4-year varsity athlete at Princeton has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life. We all have our own individual stories about personal triumphs and life lessons but I feel there are 3 universal lessons learned as a 4-year varsity athlete at Princeton that we will carry with us through life, long after we walk through those gates on Tuesday.
The first lesson we learn as Princeton Varsity athletes is how to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. In order to improve, regardless of the sport, we had to continually push ourselves physically and mentally. Often, when we pushed past our physical and mental limits, we were rewarded by improvement in our sport and were reassured that our sacrifices were well worth the reward. This lesson has helped me even beyond the pool, most notably sophomore year when I decided to fulfill my Literature and the Arts requirement by taking a dance class; yes, a dance class. Having only expressed my dancing talents between the hours of 12 and 3am, I definitely wondered if I would be able to complete this class. On the first day, our instructor told us to lie down on the ground. She then told us, “Ok class, pretend you are a piece of pasta.” What? Positioning my body to what I believed to be a piece of pasta, I waited in fear for her next instruction. She then said, “Ok, now that you are a piece pasta, pretend you are boiling.” No way, I can’t do this. After the first day, I was fully prepared to drop the class but after much thought and having seen firsthand the reward of pushing past my comfort zone in the pool, I decided to give dance class another shot; it was one of the greatest decisions I ever made. Although I won’t be starring in a dance show anytime soon, I learned a lot and improved as a result of having taken that dance class. Since this experience, I have attended student dance shows such as disiac, with a new appreciation for how difficult dance can be and how talented my fellow Princeton students were. Although most of us will never again test ourselves physically on the field, court, or pool in the ways we did at Princeton, we won’t shy away from an uncomfortable or difficult situation because we know that these challenges could lead to personal improvement.
The next lesson we learn as Princeton Varsity athletes is how to handle adversity. Many of us have had to deal with adversity in our athletic careers, but few, if any, have handled adversity with such courage and determination as football running back Jordan Culbreath. In the fall of 2009, early in his senior season, Jordan was diagnosed with a rare blood disease known as Aplastic Anemia and at that point he was no longer thinking about football but rather was focused on his health. Jordan had to take the year off from school and few believed he would ever play football again. Apparently, someone forget to tell this to Jordan. Through courage and determination, and against all odds, Jordan over came this rare disease to play his final season of football. Senior teammate Trey Peacock said of Jordan’s comeback, “Jordan’s battle with Aplastic Anemia helped me realize that even in the face of tremendous adversity, with enough support and determination, one can be successful. He was a constant source of inspiration for our entire team.” Jordan, you weren’t just a source of inspiration for your teammates, but the entire Princeton athletic community. Princeton athletics has showed us that adversity is unavoidable, it’s a part of life, but how you handle yourself in the face of adversity shows the type of person you are. As Booker T Washington said, “Character, not circumstance, makes the man.”
Finally, as Princeton Varsity Athletes we learn the value of perseverance. As Imentioned, we won a combined 15 Ivy League titles this year but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Being the curious kid I am, I looked back over 4 years to see the records of these current Ivy League Championship teams. Last year, men’s baseball had a 12-30 record, only to come back one year later to win the Ivy League title. The seniors on the men’s basketball team were 6-23 their freshmen year, only to turn the program around 4 years later for an Ivy League title and come within a minute of upsetting top ranked Kentucky. The senior’s on the men’s soccer team were 5-10 their freshmen year then this year they went undefeated in the Ivy League and went to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year. This list goes on and on and on. It is a true testament to the character of the class of 2011. Princeton athletics has taught us that failure is never the end game but rather a learning experience in the journey. If you can persevere during those difficult times, you will ultimately be successful in whatever you decide to do. In the words of the great Jimmy Valvano, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
I would not be here tonight if it wasn’t for my Mom, Dad, and brother PJ. Your unwavering love and constant support throughout my life has helped me become the man I am today and I can’t thank you three enough for all you guys have done for me. I am asking all the great men and women of the class of 2011, to at some point, it doesn’t have to be tonight, but at some point this weekend, thank those people who have helped you get here tonight. It is important to let those people know that they had an influential role in the life of a 4 year varsity athlete at Princeton University. At Princeton, we often lose sight of our own accomplishments because we are surrounded by some of the most talented people in the world. Being a 4 year varsity athlete at Princeton is a tremendous accomplishment, one we should all be proud of and never forget those people who have helped you along the way.
My second favorite Bill Clinton quote, besides the obvious first, is that he once said “Life is all about new beginnings,” and he was so incredibly right. Before I left for my freshmen year, I had countless people come up to me and say, “Enjoy College, it’s the best four years of your life.” I thought about this piece of advice after I handed in my last exam of college. I thought to myself, “Wow, college is really over. Oh my god, if college is over, does that mean my life is over too? Is it all downhill from here?” After 10 minutes of freaking out, I calmed down to realize that piece of advice needs amendment. College has been the best four years of our lives, until now. We are ready to move on. Next year, I will undoubtedly miss locker room antics, long bus rides to swim meets, and of course, beating Harvard. But, we are ready to start a new beginning. The class of 2011 has left its mark on Princeton athletics, something we should all take pride in. In these new beginnings we will be able to take the lessons we learned as Princeton Varsity Athletes and apply those in our lives to help us be better at our profession, better in our relationships, and ultimately someday, better parents. And to me, that is the truest form of education. As the years pass, I won’t remember all the history classes I took but I will remember the great friendships I made with my teammates and other varsity athletes, the memories I made, and the lessons I learned.
And on this beautiful night in May, I would like to reiterate Bill Clinton’s word by saying that life is all about new beginnings, and I wish all of you…many.