Near the end of his commencement speech to the more than 350 Ogeechee Technical College graduates gathered Thursday evening at Hanner Fieldhouse, Coach Herman Boone shared one of the stories that he told his famous high school football team during its storybook 1971 season.
It was about a blind man whose guide dog took him across a busy street against the light. When they safely crossed the street, the man reached into his pocket and gave the dog a biscuit. A little old lady who watched this scene unfold, said, "Sir, I don't mean any harm, but why" did the man reward the dog for taking them "through all kinds of adversity," nearly getting them both killed.
"The blind man said, ‘Ma'am, I don't mean any harm, but I knew what my dog was doing. I only gave him that biscuit to find out where his head is so I could kick it," Boone said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Boone was the featured speaker during the 2014 Ogeechee Tech commencement, during which more than 1,800 degrees, diplomas and certificates were awarded to the 350-plus graduates. He was the inspiration for the 2000 movie "Remember the Titans," which told the story of racially integrated T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.
Boone, an assistant coach of the former T.C. Williams High, was named head football coach of the Titans, passing over Bill Yoast, the local favorite and successful head coach of the former all-white Hammond High School. They overcame their differences, as did the black and white players, and played to an undefeated season, winning the Virginia state championship.
Even though many in the audience were looking up to Boone, the coach invoked self-deprecating humor to remove any pedestals on which the crowd might have wanted to place him. He referenced the Oscar Award winning-actor Denzel Washington, who played him in "Titans."
"I'm truly sorry that Denzel could not be here this evening, but don't you worry one bit," said Boone, 78. "I'm told by his wife that you've got the only one that's better-looking than Denzel anyway."
He spent much of his speech congratulating the graduates, warning them that not all will be easy as they move forward in life, but urging them to embrace the challenge and keep a positive outlook.
Boone said that as they venture into the world after Ogeechee Tech, the graduates will face people from different social, economic, cultural and religious backgrounds. They must learn to work with these different kinds of people, both individually and as a team. Boone said he explained his definition of team just before the ceremony to college President Dr. Dawn Cartee.
"A team is great group of people like you with one vision, with one objective and, by God, one heartbeat. And if you hear two hearts beating at your professional meeting, than I suggest you kill that other sucker so fast that the Lord won't find out about it until next week," Boone said jokingly, drawing more laughter.
Before Boone spoke, Cartee acknowledged the families of the graduates, faculty and staff and the graduates themselves.
"Graduates, you have accepted the challenge of learning something new, and you should be rewarded, and that is why we're here tonight," Cartee said. "I'm sure that you feel exhilaration for what you have accomplished, and the knowledge and skills you gained are your rewards. And that's something that nobody can ever take away from you."
One of those exhilarated graduates was Kayla Curl, 24, of Millen, who received an associate degree in accounting. The 2008 Jenkins County High School graduate started at Augusta Technical College and then transferred to Ogeechee Tech to finish her degree. She is working in a loan office now but said she hopes to open her own tax preparation office someday.
"I had a great day, it's great," Curl said. "My family's here, my little boy, my mom, my boyfriend. We're all here, so I'm going to celebrate with them."
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.