The first graduates of the Class of 2014 flipped their tassels from right to left Tuesday as University President Steven Knapp, alongside Provost Steven Lerman, presented diplomas to seniors on the men’s rowing and baseball teams at the athletics commencement ceremony.
The athletes will be unable to attend Commencement on Sunday, with baseball closing out the regular season at St. Bonaventure and men’s rowing competing in the Eastern Sprints in Worcester, Mass. In lieu of a walk on the National Mall, friends, family, coaches and teammates gathered in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre for speeches and the presentation of diplomas. Here are five takeaway moments from the ceremony.
1. Lerman: “It’s not easy to be an athlete.”
Though student speaker and baseball pitcher Colin Milon joked about pulling on sweatpants and skipping the line at the GW Deli to make it to class on time, administrators lauded the graduates for juggling course work, practices, games and, as baseball head coach Gregg Ritchie said, “all that college life offers.” Both Ritchie and men’s rowing head coach Mark Davis urged the group, which wore gold scarves embroidered with the label “student athlete,” to think of their time spent on the river or at the ballpark as another facet of their education.
“Don’t think these aren’t life lessons,” Ritchie said. “There’s a reason being an athlete opens doors.”
2. Milon: “The bond we form as teammates is stronger than blood.”
Though mothers with cameras, fathers holding cigar boxes, siblings, professors and friends filled the audience, younger teammates from men’s rowing and baseball made up the largest portion of the audience. Milon emphasized the relationships formed among players, providing a glimpse into a close-knit pocket of a larger University.
“I look over and see a group of brothers,” Milon said.
3. How far they’ve come
The senior classes from both teams showcased an athletics department that has transformed during their four years. Davis thanked rowers Trofym Anderson, Kasey Colander, Matthew Grieshaber and James Stafford “for taking a chance” on a poorly funded team as the first class in program history to receive athletic scholarships. Four years later, the team has had its best-ever season, climbing in the national rankings and at one point winning 21 races straight.
Milon joked about the pre-renovation Barcroft Park, calling it the “worst D-1 field in America,” and proudly recounted his team’s unlikely run last year to the playoffs, where it won nine of its last 10 games to make the postseason for the first time since 2006. Milon and fellow baseball seniors Owen Beightol, Taylor Lambke, Craig LeJeune, Lucas Staub and Aaron Weisberg will see one more series if yet another strong finish can squeak them in.
4. Ritchie: “You make your own luck.”
Ritchie spoke about “character muscles” that players build through competition and training. Speakers congratulated athletes for creating their own success at GW and compelled them to keep pushing themselves.
“It is imperative for you to know that, although you are leaving campus, you are walking towards opportunity with the strength and savvy and the dedication and determination of a GW Colonial,” Ritchie said.
5. Setting a serious tone
The ceremony that kicked off Commencement week was celebratory but also had more serious moments. Knapp’s first graduation speech tasked seniors with remedying global challenges, asking them to “repair what earlier generations have broken, to build what we have left un-built and to heal what we have so far left unhealed.”
Davis was similarly weighty in his remarks, telling the athletes to expect hardships after graduation.
“As rowers, as oarsmen, you always strive for still water,” Davis said. “You don’t get that very often.”