Introduction: Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson

Congratulations to the class of 2021. You have all persevered to the most challenging year of our lives, and there is so much for each of you to be proud of. With that, it is my pleasure to introduce one of my favorite players that I’ve ever coached at Wake Forest and someone that has overcome obstacles for the past four to five years — Kendall Hinton. Now, never in my wildest dreams did I ever envisioned a day that I would be introducing Kendall as a graduation speaker with individuals as accomplished as Condoleezza Rice and Pete Buttigieg. But his example of staying ready and choosing a path of uncertainty has led him to garnering national acclaim and representing our proud university with distinction. Kendall has battled through injuries, disappointments, and at times self-inflicted failures, but not one of those things define him. He has overcome many hurdles to become a better person and football player because of his resilience and mental toughness.

His unlikely start with the Denver Broncos at quarterback in 2020 after their entire quarterback room were contacts of a positive COVID-19 case, showed the country his unselfish and team-first attitude that defined his career at Wake Forest. Simply put, he turned a challenge into an opportunity. Kendall is a proud representative of Wake Forest, and I am excited and honored to be the one to introduce him today. His inspirational story is still being written, and I will let him take it from here. It’s my pleasure to introduce Kendall Hinton

Kendall Hinton of the Denver Broncos

Good evening, faculty, staff, families and class of 2021. My name is Kendall Hinton. I’m a former member of Wake Forest football and proud Wake Forest alum, much like each one of you became today. Being back on campus today has brought back so many memories. It feels like just yesterday I was in the same seats as you are, pushing through a hangover, pleading to hear my name called sooner than later. So what makes today so special is that for the time we have a group of students who have endured ambiguity and adversity on an unprecedented scale. So it is with great honor to speak in front of such a persevering group of leaders. My journey up to today has taught me that we must embrace a story that hasn’t been written.

For many of us coming out of college, we have some idea of how we want our futures to play out, whether that be our first job or how much money we plan to save in the next amount of years. And by doing so, we put ourselves in these parameters. And if anything deviates from that plan, we often times fall defeated or we’re unable to adapt. In order to create a story that hasn’t been written, we must embrace the unknown.

Ever since I could hold a football quarterback was the one position that I fell in love with. Around fifth grade, I went out and tried for the Pop Warner team in my hometown. As the tryouts finished up, it was decided that I’d be the team’s fullback, which was the biggest disappointment ever, cause not only did I feel like I was the best option at quarterback, but fullback was such a violent position. And I think back to those days and how for the first time I was put in a position that was out of my control. But I accepted the role and would find a way to take advantage of the situation.

Fast forward to 2017, heading into my junior year here at Wake Forest. After two years of competition with now Rams quarterback and good friend John Wolford, I was finally granted the starting role two weeks into the season. My first game under center, I get tackled, tear a ligament in my knee and my 2017 season was over. The 2018 season is finally here, and in what I thought would finally be my year to shine, I was suspended for the first quarter of the season. There was disappointment throughout our entire team and rightfully so. But the biggest disappointment being in myself and not like any other obstacles I had faced, this was my responsibility that I had to own up to. The season begins. My confidence is gone, and it’s starting to show him my performance. So the option of wide receiver is offered, and there it is again — an opportunity to embrace uncertainty.

Fast forward to this past year, and like all of you today, this pandemic has created a huge obstacle in our journeys. Due to the rising cases, our pro day, which is a chance to finally showcase talents for NFL teams was canceled. So draft day comes around and my name goes uncalled. Thankfully, I’m offered an opportunity by the Denver Broncos to come and try out as a free agent. And unfortunately for rookie free agents, you’re often the first to go. And so as it goes that following training camp, the organization decided to release me, and just like that, I’m no longer an athlete. I gave myself about two weeks to sulk, and it was time to make some decisions. So I started preparing myself for the job field. Within a week or so, I found a small gig raising fundraisers for schools, hoping I could scrape up enough money to continue my football training. About two weeks go by, and I’m actually starting to work.

Now one Monday afternoon, I get a call from the Broncos telling me I had about four hours to make the next flight to Denver. And so I let my supervisor know, I sent my goodbyes to family and friends and I head off to Denver that night. After my second week back with the team since being released, I’m headed to pick up my girlfriend from the airport around six o’clock. At that time, the plan was to show her around a bit Saturday, and we would watch the game Sunday from home. And as I’m arriving at the airport, my coach calls me. At that time, I’m assuming the worst, but instead he asked me — hey, could you suit up for quarterback tomorrow? — that they would need me to be back in the building by 7:30 that night. Mind you, the last time I’ve thrown a ball was in 2017.

So instantly my heart drops, and I called my dad just to make sure this was reality. As I try my best to prepare that night and calm my nerves, it dawned on me — at every single stage of my life, there has been a moment where I’ve had the choice to embrace uncertainty, or stay in my parameters. Always choose uncertainty. The game ends, and my performance is poor. But the experiences, the support, the opportunities that have opened up from embracing that uncertainty are like no other

Class of 2021, life is often measured in moments, and today’s a big moment for all of you. Enjoy every second of it, and as you depart from this beautiful campus, always remember to be grateful for your situation because there is a lesson in everything. Everyone’s path is unique so embrace every twist and turn on your journey. And most importantly, embrace uncertainty. Allow for unlimited opportunities and break those parameters so you can create a story that you’ve never read before. Congratulations and God speed, class of 2021.