How to give a commencement speech that goes viral? Tell your absolute truth (and wear foxy kicks)

The Barnard graduating class was on their feet cheering, but Abby Wambach still had no idea she’d just given the kick-assiest commencement address of 2018. That news came later, via YouTube (more than 100K views and counting), and Twitter, and Good Morning America. Her speech urged women to stop playing Little Red Riding Hood—all obedience and acceptance—and join a new kind of female wolf pack, remaking the world. If you haven’t already, watch it here, and you’ll know what it feels like to be in a locker room with an Olympic-caliber coach. (While you’re there, check out her bedazzled sneakers—a little footwear rebellion under her ceremonial graduation robe-thing.) Where did the inspiration for the speech come from, we wondered? The soccer legend, Together Live speaker and wife of TL co-founder Glennon Doyle told us it was a process. Before she could say it to others she had to live it herself.

Together Live: The speech was eff-ing incredible. Congratulations.

Abby Wambach: Thank you.

TL: Tell me about the process and how it came together.

AW: Glennon calls me Captain America because I’m always trying to figure out how everyone can coexist in a positive way, in a better way than we can exist as individuals. And over the course of my career I learned certain principles, or rules, that I just live by. Then about a year and half ago I came across this beautiful story about these wolves that were reintegrated into Yellowstone national park, and I was able to attach to it some of the things that I knew about sport. I drew from all of that, and because my wife is an author and a thought leader, she’s able to help me make my ideas beautiful. She’s a champion and an expert at making something very complicated seem simple with language. I think that’s our special sauce as a couple. She makes me sound much better, and much more beautiful and much simpler than I actually am.

TL: Did you spend a lot of time talking this through, the two of you?

AW: Yes. It was about a sixty-hour production from start to finish, to cultivate and create what ended up becoming this Barnard speech. We sat down every day for two hours and I would basically just talk. It’s ironic because that’s kind of what we do on a daily basis but we don’t necessarily have a focal point where we’re trying to accomplish something on deadline for a big crowd. So, as the speech started to evolve and to morph, I started to feel like, Oh my gosh, this is actually really good. This is the best thing I’ve ever done. And I started feeling really proud of it and turned up the volume on how much thought and time I was putting in. Of course, Glennon has her own deadlines, so to find the time in our day to get this thing to be as beautiful as it was—that was a miracle in a lot of ways, but such a joy. In fact, it actually was the most fun I’ve had since retiring from playing soccer.

TL: Wow! That seems like the universe speaking to you somehow, right?

AW: Of course. I realized that I just haven’t been around a team for a while. This gave me a focus, it gave me that team feeling, it gave me that feeling that the Together tour pulled out of me. Even this morning I said to Glennon, this makes me feel like I’m on a team again, and I like this feeling. Because I don’t feel so alone, and I think that’s what we’re all here for. That’s why the wolf pack imagery is so important.

TL: Yes, we are all, on some level, pack people. So, when did you marry the wolf pack image with the Little Red Riding Hood idea? Every woman heard that story as a child, and we carry it with us.

AW: One of the stories that Glennon uses a lot is the story that’s been told over and over for the longest time in humanity: the story of Adam and Eve. Eve gets curious and hungry, and she reaches and grabs an apple, and the world falls apart. Right? So, from the time that we’re born, this is the one centralized story that we’re told, and that story gets morphed into Little Red Riding Hood, gets morphed into every fairytale that little girls and boys are told the world over.

TL: Right—and the message to women is don’t reach, don’t stray.

AW: Yes, that’s why it’s so important to make something so complicated sound simple and understandable and relatable to every person’s life. It uncovers what’s unconscious inside of us. So, it’s like: Oh yeah, I didn’t know that I was doing that.

TL: Ok, some of us are very literal minded and struggle with the fact that the wolf is kind of sneaky. He’s clever and he bares his teeth. Do we need a little sneaky, do we need a bit of scary? Is that important for women as we invest in becoming more wolf, less Little Red? Is it important for us to come up with our wolf strategies?

AW: Yes. But if you’re looking at it literally, we don’t want to become the Big Bad Wolf. We want to be the wolves that are conscious of what’s out there and aware of what’s going on. We don’t want to live in this nature of just being female or male—what has been characteristically and historically feminine, and characteristically and historically masculine. What’s been feminine has been shamed out of women, and what’s been masculine has been revered and celebrated. I think we have to redefine what masculine is and what feminine is and what our new culture needs for our society to evolve. We need to recreate what kind of people we all want to be. And it’s not only masculine and it’s not only feminine—it’s being able to use both.

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