Katie Sowers offers 5 key pieces of advice to the Class of 2020

San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers knows quite a bit about succeeding through adversity.

She offered some of that wisdom she’s gained to members of the Class of 2020 during a virtual graduation address to the class of 2020 on Friday during the Verizon event, “Class of 2020: Ready for Anything.” She encouraged graduates that “there is beauty in the unknown” as they mark their milestone in a time of great uncertainty.

Sowers made history in February when she became the first woman and the first openly gay coach to be on the sidelines with a Super Bowl team. But at the start of her address, she read a journal entry from Sept. 16, 2010, when she was 24 years old and entirely unsure of what her path might be, and even what she wanted her path to be.

Five tips for graduates

In the true style of a football coach, Sowers offered these keys to graduates:

  1. Your attitude will be the difference.

    “It’s not the weight of the world that determines how much you can accomplish; it’s the way in which you view that weight,” Sowers said. She recalled Memorial Day weekend two years ago when her father had a massive stroke, and her mother began to show signs of illness not long after, the stress of having to move and care for her incapacitated husband taking its toll. The next time Sowers visited her parents, her mother seemed significantly different, for the better. Sowers asked what had changed and her mom said she had changed her mindset: “I do not have to take care of my husband; I get to take care of my husband.” Her change of perspective changed so much.

  2. Don’t assume she likes pink.

    “Let me explain: I’m not referring to girls or the color pink,” Sowers said. “I’m talking about all of the invisible barriers that we knowingly and unknowingly place on people due to their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation — no matter how open-minded you believe you are, we have all been influenced by societal norms.”

    Sowers encouraged graduates to be open and accepting of the differences they come across in others, noting that those differences make all of us stronger.

  3. If it doesn’t open, it may not be your door.

    Sowers said she believes she is where she is in life because a lot of things didn’t go as she had planned.

    “Coaching was always something I knew I wanted to do, following in my father’s footsteps,” she said. Her first attempt was to volunteer with her college basketball team at Goshen College, but her former coach said he didn’t want her around the team because she was out as a lesbian. “I remember being so angry,” Sowers said. “It was extremely easy to feel sorry for myself ... One day I made the decision that I had to move on.” An internet search uncovered the women’s tackle football league she would play in for years, offering the chance to return to the game she loved when she was younger and playing with neighborhood boys.

  4. Hatred and judgement will not cure ignorance.

    “The only thing that can cure ignorance is communication and education,” she said. “When we are quick to anger, we lose all ability to authentically communicate with those who need it the most.”

  5. Believe in yourself and those you meet along the way.

    “It is amazing to see what happens to the other person and what happens to you when you begin to live your life that way,” Sowers said. “[Legendary 49ers coach] Bill Walsh always said, ‘the most important thing you can say to someone is I believe in you.’”

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