Graduating student-athletes encouraged to embrace fear, show empathy

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Student-athletes switch their tassels after receiving diplomas at the athletics commencement.

Twenty-three student-athletes were the first students to receive their degrees at Tuesday’s athletics commencement.

Graduating student-athletes from softball, baseball and men’s and women’s rowing were addressed by Provost Forrest Maltzman, who will soon step down from the post. University President Thomas LeBlanc and rower and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President Robert Hobert also offered their words of encouragement to graduates.

1. Grow from life’s challenges

Maltzman quoted author George Pocock’s New York Times bestseller “The Boys in the Boat,” comparing the way boats move in water with the challenges students may face down the road.

“It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to,” Maltzman said, quoting Pocock. “The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment – but that very water is what supports you. And that very enemy is your friend.”

He related the resistance felt by a boat on water to the resistance students may feel when they face challenges in life. Student-athletes should break out of their comfort zone academically and socially to mature into stronger individuals, he said.

“I hope your experience at GW is sort of like water for a rower or a ball game that has more innings than you imagined,” Maltzman said. “In one respect, our goal was to make you stronger and better by forcing you to pursue a path that involves healthy risk.”

Maltzman urged graduating seniors to continue learning and to never look for a “finish line ahead” because life is ever-changing.

“GW’s role is to prepare you for a path that will inevitably take unexpected turns throughout your life,” Maltzman said. “If you accept the lessons you have learned in the classroom and through competition, I have no doubt that you will go faster and further in life.”

2. Embrace fear

After congratulating his fellow graduates and thanking administrators, coaches, friends and family, Hobert named his top-five fears, including love and uncertainty.

He said GW changed his previous view that love is a weakness and a feeling to be avoided and ignored. His teammates helped him understand that love is instead a strength that should be embraced, Hobert said.

“To my teammates that have sat next to me every practice and every race, who put up with me for four years and my incessant babbling about how great SAAC is and how I bleed buff and blue – that is love,” Hobert said.

He added that he is fearful of the unpredictability of life but confident in his and his graduating peers’ abilities to take on challenges because of the tenacity they acquired at GW.

“We do not take the easy route,” Hobert said. “We took it upon ourselves to challenge our limits and our patience, working with big teams and growing not only to be great student-athletes but great human beings. We are ready.”

3. Exhibit empathy and continue learning

LeBlanc, the University president, encouraged graduates to continue learning and to respect and learn from personal differences with “open eyes, mind and heart.”

He challenged graduates to listen to the perspectives of others and seek empathy during their “lifelong journey of learning.”

“What you discover from others, about others, with others will have a positive influence on you and your community,” LeBlanc said. “Each of us has something important to contribute to our society, make your contribution while lifting up others too.”

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