"Wow," Rivers said, according to the Charlotte Observer. "I've got to tell you, standing in front of the Wolfpack family again, it makes me want to run out of the tunnel at Carter-Finley Stadium just one more time."
Rivers, who attended N.C. State from 2000 to 2003, still holds many of the school's passing records, including those for career passing yards (13,484) and yards in a season (4,491, in 2003). The school retired his jersey number (17) before his final home game, but his NFL destiny was far from settled.
"I wasn't certain what the future held, but I was certain in what mattered most to me," Rivers told the graduates. "I knew as long as I stayed focused on my priorities, I would be ready for life's ups and downs."
Shortly after Rivers graduated with a degree in business, he was subject to the drama that can come with being a top NFL draft pick. The New York Giants took him fourth overall in the 2004 NFL Draft, but he would never play a snap with the team; the Giants subsequently traded him to the Chargers for first-overall pick Eli Manning. Since then, however, Rivers has led San Diego to the playoffs four times and made the Pro Bowl four times.
According to the newspaper, Rivers urged the thousands of graduates assembled before him to find and follow their dreams.
"Class of 2012, what are you passionate about?" Rivers asked. "What fires you up? Life is too short to just go through the motions. Discover your passion and do it to the best of your ability."
Rivers told the crowd that family is very important to him -- he and his wife, Tiffany, have six children together -- and urged the graduates to be clear-eyed about what matters to them in life.
"You're on the brink of your greatest challenge yet; don't take that step without a firm commitment to your priorities," he said.