Dawn Staley snickered and cracked a nervous smile as she stepped up to the podium to speak Thursday morning at Temple’s 135th commencement ceremony at the Liacouras Center — just blocks from where she grew up in North Philly.

After thanking each person on stage and congratulating the graduates before her, she looked up from her notes and said there was something she wanted to get off her chest.

“Their first option was the best scholar but the best scholar was busy,” Staley said. “Their second option was the best athlete but of course the best athlete was busy. Their third option was the best looking. And I said, ‘What the heck, I can’t turn them down three times in a row.’”

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She laughed, taking in a resounding applause, before admitting she’s been telling that joke for 20 years. But it never misses. Staley opened with the same joke in her 2015 address to South Carolina graduates.

In her 13-minute speech at Temple’s first in-person commencement in two years, Staley honed in on two major themes. The first was an egregiously false misconception that where you come from limits where you can go. And the second was to lean on your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses.

Staley, who turned 52 Wednesday, was born at Temple University Hospital. She realized how good she could be as a player during her first basketball camp at McGonigle Hall. Her first job was as a summer basketball camp counselor for legendary coach John Chaney. And her coaching career began at Temple in 2000.

“So to be from here and to have been on this campus hundreds of times throughout my life,” said Staley, now a two-time national champion coach at South Carolina, “makes receiving this honor from the university a full circle moment for me.”

Temple’s graduating class of 2022 has few personal memories of Staley’s playing career. Many in the crowd were born around the time she started coaching in 2000 and in preschool when her parallel WNBA career ended in 2006.

Staley, the newest honorary graduate who attended Virginia, said reflecting on her life and career on stage evoked a lot of emotion. Oftentimes she feels only happiness or anger, both fueled by her competitive spirit.

On Thursday morning, a third emotion came up, she said. Staley felt overwhelmed and fueled by pride.

“Every opportunity that comes your way, don’t try to take the easy way out because there’s no easy way,” Staley said. “There are no shortcuts to life, trust me on that one. Taking shortcuts will only lead you back to the long road. So don’t waste your time — life happens fast. Just ask your parents.”

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As a player, Staley was an All-American at Virginia, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, the United States’ opening ceremony flag bearer in 2004, and a five-time WNBA All-Star.

In her time coaching at Temple, Staley led the Owls to six 20-win seasons, four Atlantic-10 titles, and six NCAA Tournament appearances over eight years before taking the job at South Carolina in 2008.

Staley has since become the first person in the history of USA basketball to receive both National Coach of the Year and National Player of the Year honors. She’s also the first Black coach, man or woman, to win two national titles.

“You’re only measured by your effort and determination,” Staley said. “Both of which are within your control.”