Real Life Rudy Visits Oberlin

Ian Adomeit

His message was clear: Never give up on your dreams. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger encouraged this point throughout his motivational speech to Oberlin students and faculty Wednesday night in West Lecture Hall.

Ruettiger is most famous for the movie Rudy, which follows the story of his journey to achieve his dream of playing football for the University of Notre Dame. Ruettiger also recently published Rudy: My Story, an autobiography about his story.

Wearing a Notre Dame windbreaker, Ruettiger shared stories of challenges he faced throughout his early life and what he learned from them. He highlighted his struggles in school, including an undiagnosed case of dyslexia among various other challenges.

Ruettiger emphasized one particular traumatizing instance from grade school. He failed to answer the homework question, “Who was the fifth president of the United States?” He recalled that his teacher told him to sit in the back of the class after he couldn’t answer it and admitted that was the day he “quit dreaming.”

The question continued to stump him for years.

The Illinois-native recalled life growing up in a Catholic household as one of 14 children. Every Saturday, Ruettiger and his siblings would fold their clothes and shine their shoes in preparation for Sunday mass. After graduating from high school, Ruettiger left home for the U.S. Navy.

Ruettiger highlighted his time spent in the Navy as the turning point in his attitude. It was there that he realized that it was the little things that counted and developed the four Cs: character, commitment, courage and contribution.

While he was a Navy officer, Ruettiger said a superior officer noticed his ability to fold underwear and tasked him to teach his fellow sailors. Despite the simplicity of it, Ruettiger called the moment “the day he became a leader.”

Along with developing the four Cs, Ruettiger “quit on the naysayers” during his time in the Navy. Instead, he told the audience to hang around people who would encourage them.

Ruettiger insisted Rudy “wasn’t about football,” but rather that the four Cs were what made Rudy such a successful sports movie. “Everyone can play football. Not everyone can go to Notre Dame. Not everyone wants to pay the price I paid,” Ruettiger said.

The power and inspiration of Rudy were demonstrated through Ruettiger’s recollection of his run-in with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant last year. Bryant told him he first saw Rudy as a 16 year old and was inspired to make positive changes in his attitude. The NBA All-Star also attributed his strong work ethic to the inspiration of Ruettiger’s story.

Ruettiger said he accepted a dinner invitation at the White House soon after the release of Rudy — 45 years after his teacher sent him to the back of the class. When Ruettiger visited the White House, he noticed an oil painting on the wall. It was James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States.