Author’s Note: As I’ve done at this time over the past several years, I offer my annual commencement speech to this year’s high school graduates:

Barth Keck

Welcome to Commencement 2023. What an unusual and eventful four years it has been! From COVID closing schools in your freshman year, to hybrid schedules in your sophomore year, and now to something I call the “Post-COVID Malaise” that is casting a pall over all high schoolers. No doubt, it has been difficult to find a sense of balance in life, as relationships have been strained and life itself is still not back to normal – whatever “normal” now means.

Rather than regale you with customary memories or bore you with mundane platitudes, I want to focus on three essential ideas I’ve culled from one of the best television shows to come along in a while: Ted Lasso.

If you’re unfamiliar with the comedy that just finished its three-season run on Apple TV+, the title character is an American football coach who’s hired to lead AFC Richmond, a British soccer team acquired by Rebecca Welton in a divorce settlement. Rebecca wants to visit her revenge upon her soccer-loving ex-husband, so she handpicks Lasso, an American football coach who knows nothing about soccer, to ruin the team. Ted Lasso has the exact opposite effect, of course. His influence goes much deeper than his aw-shucks appearance, as his emotional intelligence and refreshing civility – “the Lasso Way” – not only help the team win; they make everyone around him a better person.

So here are the three specific truths from Ted Lasso that I believe that you, graduates, should take to heart:

#1: We are all flawed individuals – and that’s okay. What’s important is to admit our flaws and work to make ourselves better.

Even as Ted Lasso is the wise and caring coach, he has his own issues: A recent divorce has caused him much consternation, often manifesting in panic attacks. Lasso seeks counseling from team psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, and while he is initially hesitant to share his emotions, Ted ultimately reveals the deep-seated pain he suffers from his father’s suicide:

“I wish I would have told him more [about what a good father he was]. I was so angry at him because he was always gone at work and I was always with friends or something, and then he was just gone. And I knew right then and there I would never let anyone get by without understanding that they might be hurting inside. Life, it’s hard. Real hard.”

Life, graduates, is hard – and we are asked to face it with all of our flaws. But we can’t be ashamed of those flaws; it’s only human. What’s important is to recognize our flaws and address them – especially with the help of others.

#2: Forgive those who hurt you. As flawed human beings, we’re all capable of hurting others.

After Ted’s positive influence wins over the team, Rebecca confesses her sinister intentions in hiring him. Lasso’s simple response? “I forgive you.” He goes on to say, “Divorce is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one leaving or if you’re the one who got left. It makes folks do crazy things…This job you gave me has changed my life. It’s given me the distance I needed to see what’s goin’ on. You and me? We’re okay.”

Perhaps the most poignant example of forgiveness in the show involves Nate Shelley, the kit man – or equipment manager – whom Lasso makes an assistant coach. Nate betrays Lasso by revealing his panic attacks to the press and taking a job with a rival team. Eventually, he is given the opportunity to return to AFC Richmond, but Lasso’s right-hand man, Coach Beard, is wary.

Lasso tells Beard, “I don’t know about you, Coach. But I hope that either all of us or none of us are judged by the actions we take in our weakest moments, but rather for the strength we show if, and when, we’re ever given a second chance.”

In your lives, graduates, always remember the second chances you’ve been given so that you might forgive others and give them a second chance, too.

#3: The world is becoming more diverse every day. That’s a fact that we should celebrate, not fear.

Soccer – AKA “football” – is called “the world’s game” for a reason: It has 3.5 billion fans and 250 million players throughout the world. No surprise, then, that the AFC Richmond roster features men from 11 different countries: England, Nigeria, Mexico, Canada, France, Wales, the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Switzerland, and Bolivia. Clearly, the creators of Ted Lasso fashioned the team as a microcosm of the world’s nationalities. In the same vein, the show features main characters who are heterosexual, bisexual, and gay. And perhaps most notably, women appear prominently as leaders and business executives.

The thing is, the show does not bludgeon us with its diversity. It simply presents life in 2023 as it currently exists. Sadly, many Americans have responded to this reality with “Stop WOKE Acts” and “Go Woke, Go Broke” slogans. Ted Lasso, on the other hand, demonstrates that accepting others as they are makes life kinder – and healthier – for everyone. As the coach says, “You don’t have to be best friends to be great teammates.”

As you prepare to enter that big world, high school graduates of 2023, I urge you to remember the Lasso Way:

  • Accept and address your flaws.
  • Forgive others.
  • Live and let live. 

Each of these actions, frankly, is an example of doing the right thing. And “doing the right thing,” says Coach Lasso, “is never the wrong thing.”

Ted Lasso's Twitter page, with a picture of him and of the "BELIEVE" sign from the television show.
Screengrab of the Twitter account set up for the Ted Lasso character on Apple TV. Credit: @TedLasso via Twitter / Apple TV+

Barth Keck is in his 32nd year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.