Walking or winning, some athletes miss out on graduation
By SARAH HAMPTON
In early May, student athletes are confronted with a big decision. It is not about post-grad jobs or internships that are already on every senior’s mind, it is about the privilege of walking across the graduation stage.
Getting to participate in the NCAA tournament is a big accomplishment. Teams focus time and energy for months to qualify. In the NCAA tournament, teams are given a chance to compete at the highest level and extend their season. But every year, spring sport teams that make it into the tournament must cross their fingers and hope that their game schedule does not conflict with graduation.
For the past three years, the UMW women’s lacrosse team has received a bid into the NCAA tournament. Selection Show Sunday is an anxiety-inducing process that occurs after every lacrosse team in the country has finished their regular playing season. The NCAA live broadcasts the announcement of the brackets and the teams that have made it in the tournament. For those teams waiting on a bid, Selection Show Sunday might as well be the equivalent of Judgment Day.
As a member of women’s lacrosse, I have witnessed the anticipation that each senior faces on Selection Show Sunday. The obvious question: will I get to continue playing the sport I love, or will my career be over? But there is also the underlying question: will I get to walk across the graduation stage and receive my diploma?
“I was extremely nervous going into Selection Show Sunday, more nervous than the previous year, because I didn’t want to be done playing lacrosse. I felt like we had a lot more to get done and was worried our time would get cut short,” said Emily Mott, class of 2017.
Mott’s undergraduate commencement was on May 13 – the same day as the first round of the NCAA tournament where her team was scheduled to play Meredith College.
“I wasn’t too upset about missing graduation, but it was weird seeing all our classmates have events and plans that whole week leading up to graduation. I was happy that we were still playing though,” Mott said.
Although Mott was not able to attend the large commencement, the athletic department put on a smaller graduation ceremony for those athletes that had game conflicts. Families, teammates, and coaches gathered in the Anderson lobby to honor those seniors and their academic accomplishments.
“I think you always assume that you will be at your college graduation and once you realize you aren’t going to be there or participate in all the events leading up to it with your classmates – it is a little weird, but I would not trade missing graduation for lacrosse for the world,” Mott said.
Katherine Lambert, who graduated in 2018, was able to attend her undergraduate commencement. Her team received a first round bid that otherwise would have interfered with graduation.
“You only get the chance to graduate from college once, so I really wanted to walk in mine. I was the first grandchild to graduate college, so I really wanted my grandmother to have the chance to witness that,” Lambert said.
It is a privilege to be given a chance to compete in the NCAA tournament, but – at what cost? For 12 years leading up to college and 4 more spent earning my degree, I have worked incredibly hard in the classroom. But, I have also worked incredibly hard on the field.
“It was one of the most memorable weekends of my life graduating on Saturday, then playing in the NCAA tournament Sunday,” said Lambert. “It was so special to see my whole team and coaches lined up on campus as we walked into the ceremony, it made the ceremony ten times more special seeing them there.”
Whether or not I will be able to attend the undergraduate commencement comes down to pure luck. With 64 teams participating in the tournament, the NCAA could not possibly avoid all the graduations.
Graduation is the culmination of my college years and something that will be remembered for years to come. Should I not have the opportunity to attend, I hope my fellow classmates will enjoy it for me and realize that not everyone has the privilege to walk across that stage on Ball Circle.
As our spring lacrosse season rolls around, graduation will most certainly be at the back of my mind, but winning will be at the forefront.