Top sports keynote speaker Sarah Thomas, a University of Mobile alumna, broke barriers to become the first female official in the National Football League. During her commencement speech to the UM Class of 2021, Thomas shared lessons learned along the way.
Thomas received the Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Christian University during an outdoor ceremony on campus. 265 students earned degrees, including the first doctoral degrees in vocal performance from the new Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor of Musical Arts programs.
Dr. Thomas earned a basketball scholarship and Academic All-American honors from the University of Mobile in 1995. Her football officiating career started in 1996 after she and her brother attended a meeting for prospective football officials. In 2015, Thomas became the NFL’s first full-time female official, and on February 7, 2021, she became the first female to officiate a Super Bowl, as the down judge for Super Bowl LV.
“I want to share a few things that I’ve learned after leaving the University of Mobile that have truly helped me to become the first female in the National Football League. But I don’t hide behind that title, it does not identify who I am,” said Thomas.
Thomas believes that many people tend to get caught up in titles, but that graduates should not live their lives seeking to gain popularity.
“No one would boo me if I cut it short,” Thomas said as she started her speech, referring to UM President Lonnie Burnett’s statement that she would have about 15 minutes to talk. “I think he failed to remember that I’m an NFL official. We get booed in a split-second.”
The crowd laughed. Thomas then thanked the graduates while also challenging them.
What you did to be able to sit in that chair today is a huge accomplishment. But what you do with that accomplishment when you get out of that chair today will matter.” Thomas encouraged students not to be afraid of failing.
She encouraged the students to concentrate on the possibilities in front of them rather than second-guessing their decisions due to a setback.
“Your best successes will come from your greatest failures,” said Thomas.
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