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Muhlenberg College

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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soccer all-star mike williams
to give commencement speech

For the last four years, Mike Williams has joined his soccer teammates in representing Muhlenberg College with great distinction on campus, in the region and overseas. But next
Mike Williams
Williams addressed Muhlenberg students on behalf of the soccer team at the Scotty Wood Tournament in November, the night before the "Sweet 16" game.
Sunday, Williams will stand alone in representing his class.

Williams was selected as the senior speaker and will give the address for the Class of 2011 at Muhlenberg’s 163rd Commencement.

“It’s an honor to represent the class at graduation,” said Williams. “I’m excited. I can’t wait.”

Williams, who began telling friends that he wanted to give the commencement speech when he was a sophomore, was nominated by his classmates. After all the nominations were received, the class voted for six finalists, who then went before a panel of administrators and students for a half-hour interview. From that pool of six, three finalists were chosen for another class vote.

The third-place finisher in the vote gives a toast at next Wednesday’s Senior Ball. The second-place finisher will give a toast at the champagne brunch next Friday. And Williams got the big prize – the commencement speech.

For many, making a speech in front of a large group of people is about as desirable as having an important game decided on penalty kicks. But Williams has always considered himself a good presenter and got his first true taste of public speaking when Coach Sean Topping asked him to talk at the soccer team banquet in January.

“It went well and was a lot of fun,” said Williams. “There was a lot
Mike Williams
Williams had his best season as a senior, earning All-Centennial Conference honorable mention after scoring a career-high 17 points. He had two goals and three assists in the Mules' five postseason games.
of emotion behind the soccer speech because I knew everyone so well. We established a pretty strong relationship over the last four years. Speaking in a room of 50 people that you know is completely different from speaking to 5- or 6,000 people at graduation.

“I’m a little bit nervous just because I’ve never been in front of such a huge crowd,” he added. “But I trust what I’m going to say – hopefully that will shield my nerves.”

So what will Williams say?

“At the core of it, it will be about living passionately and enjoying life because you only get one shot at it,” he said.

“Before I came to Muhlenberg, I knew I wanted to work on Wall Street, make lots of money, live in a big house, drive expensive cars – all that. As I matured, I grew away from that and learned what is important about life. You have to be happy with what you’re doing. I interned at four Wall Street firms, and the more I did it, I got better in terms of placement, but I hated it so much.

“I want my words to have real meaning,” he continued. “Maybe someone somewhere down the line will remember my speech and realize that it’s never too late to change.”

Williams’ friends jokingly call him “the voice of the people” because his background may not be exactly in line with one typically expected of a senior speaker.

“I’ve had a fun four years,” he said. “I’m no 4.0 student. I played a sport. But I think I can deliver a message that can translate to business majors, biochemistry majors, theatre majors, boys, girls, parents … anyone.

“I had a unique Muhlenberg experience. I have friends all over the place, and the experiences I have Mike Williams give me a cool perspective, not only in how they shaped me, but also in what I’m looking to take when I graduate. There’s been ups and downs, but all in all it’s been a special experience.”

No experience was more special than playing for the men’s soccer team, especially last fall. The Mules reached the “Sweet 16” of the NCAA Tournament, falling to Merchant Marine at home in front of a vocal and boisterous home crowd.

“There will never be anything that can remotely compete with the last four years on the soccer team,” Williams said. “It’s still really tough to swallow. Every time I drive past that field, I realize how much I’m going to miss it. Every summer I used to dread coming back and running all those sprints, but I would do it all again 10 times if I could.”

He can’t, of course, and Williams already has an eye toward the “real world.” He is in the process of starting his own company, a social network for entrepreneurs and investors. He is very excited about the possibilities, as well as a trip to Europe he will be taking with some of his friends and teammates after graduation.

But first, Williams will try to leave his classmates with a few words of wisdom, as well as thanks.

“Muhlenberg showed me what I wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve gained an enjoyment of life that I’d like to pass on. Because of the environment [my classmates] created, it’s drastically changed my life in a better way.”

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