May 19, 2012
Each May, the area around the Main Building on campus springs to life as a temporary arena for Longhorn students to showcase to the world that they have completed the often traveled road to success by earning a college degree from the University of Texas. But for a group of young student-athletes who regularly performed in the much different and larger arena of DKR-Memorial Stadium, it was not the performance that meant as much as the journey to get to this particular destination that signals a new start in their life. For a commencement by its very definition is not an end, but the beginning of life's fantastic journey.
The 129th spring commencement at the University of Texas on Saturday saw over 8000 graduates, including more than 2000 who will be earning their Master's or Ph.D., walk across the stage with degree in hand to the cheers of enthusiastic, and sometimes relieved, family and friends.
The Texas Longhorns football team graduated 19 student-athletes this past weekend.
Jamison Berryhill, Mark Buchanan, Anthony D'Addeo, John Paul Floyd, Garrett Gilbert, Ian Harris, Jeremy Hills, Ahmard Howard, Blaine Irby, Luciano Martinez, Patrick McNamara, Luke Padgett, Christian Randolph, Ryan Roberson, Sam Walker, Foswhitt Whittaker, Trey Wier, Michael Wilcoxon and Nick Zajicek make up the graduating class of May 2012.
"We bring young people to the university. We help them develop, give them some direction, help them find their own direction and it culminates in their graduation., said Brian Davis, associate athletics director for academic services. "We are very proud of the fact that so many of them are graduating under what is termed 'on time,' and still being able to go off and pursue professional football. We think that is the best combination."
"It feels great," said Blaine Irby about receiving his degree in health promotion. "It feels like yesterday when I first got out here in the summer of `07. These last five years have gone by very, very fast and it's been an incredible experience."
"It's really, really special for me. I'm the first in my family to graduate [from college]," said Luciano Martinez, who received a mathematics degree and was honored at the College of Natural Sciences graduation on Saturday morning. "It feels fantastic. I'm pretty excited. Really excited."
And it wasn't just players who were overwhelmed; parents who saw their sons leave home as starry-eyed boys and grow into mature, young men during their time at UT, also shared their enthusiasm.
"You know, I can remember the day Blaine said, `How am I going to figure out where I am going to school,'" said Blaine's father, Pat. "And I said, `Blaine, that's like us picking your girlfriends for you. We can't do it.' And when we got on the plane after our first meeting at the University of Texas here in Austin, he said, `Do you guys feel like I do about this place?' And it was awesome. From that point forward we knew we we're going to be Longhorns, and it was great. We've had a great, great time here, and I think Blaine's really enjoyed his stay. This as been a great, great journey for him. And us."
"The interesting thing about this time of year is that we have so many of our football players that graduated in December, but couldn't attend graduation ceremonies," said Davis. "So many of our guys, maybe a dozen, have already graduated months ago, but are going through the ceremony now because we had a game in December the day that the University had the fall graduation. "
Two of those student-athletes who graduated in December but participated in ceremonies this weekend are Emmanuel Acho and Tre Newton.
"I'm extremely proud. It feels great to be a Longhorn right now more than ever. More than anything I've done on the field," said Newton about receiving his corporate communications degree. "Just to finally be done with school and graduating and to have that degree in my hand, it's a great feeling."
"I'm extremely humbled and extremely privileged and just thankful," added Acho, who now holds a degree in sport management. "It's been a long journey, not only from high school, but now to come to the University of Texas and be able to play football and graduate as well - it's a very, very awesome feeling.
"I didn't think it would come as fast as it did. You know, I hoped for an end sooner or later, but never realized it would come as quickly at it did."
Over 350 graduates, including 14 Longhorn players, will have earned their "sheepskins" from the College of Education, ranked first among public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
"[The ranking] makes me feel great because I know that's what I came here for - to be number one," said Fozzy Whittaker, who earned his master's degree in kinesiology. "And just being a part of that really is a blessing, and I'm thankful for the opportunity and what they've done for me."
"One of the things that we push is the fact that we have the resources that a lot of the schools don't have in that 100 percent of our football student-athletes come to summer school," said Davis. "We have the means to do that, and that gives them an opportunity to either get ahead or at the very least catch up. And we want them to be in a position to graduate as soon as they can. Whether they have eligibility remaining is something that can be taken care of in a variety of different ways.
"Fozzy Whittaker is leaving here with two degrees. He played his last two seasons with a bachelor's degree in his pocket, and he finished his master's degree today. Those are the things that we strive to do. It is difficult, but once they develop a value of their own education, they understand what it takes. They also understand that when they perform well in the classroom, they're better football players. They are more responsible. They are more accountable. They are better teammates."
"You know, honestly, I just wanted to do my four year track and just make sure that I had extra room to work on something else for my fifth year after I decided I was going to redshirt," said Whittaker. "Once I figured out I was going to graduate in three-and-a-half with my undergrad and then go on to complete my master's, then I said, `Let me go ahead and shoot for that.'"
And Whittaker may run just as far with his education as he has run with the ball on the football field. Could a doctorate degree be in the offing?
"I haven't thought about that one yet," Whittaker said, laughing at the suggestion. "I may need to take a little break, but you never know. I never want to limit myself, so if the opportunity presents itself, I definitely will take it."
One thing all of the graduates were cognizant of was the power that earning a degree in general, and one from the University of Texas in particular, meant for their continued success.
"It was extremely important [to graduate], because obviously, I'm not going to play in the NFL or anything like that," said Newton, who had to quit football for medical reasons. "So it's a good thing I have my education and my degree in corporate communications to fall back on and to give me a foundation."
"You can ask anyone around here, we're always going to say that we're the best in the country," said Irby. "It's a family that stretches across the world. When you show that `T' ring around, people recognize it. So I'm very proud. I think that it's a huge honor to graduate from such a great university, and I just look forward to the rest of my life."
"Texas is a great university," added Acho. "Not only in the athletic realm, but also clearly in the academic realm as well. And I'm just proud that I was a part of both."
Spring 2012 Texas Longhorn Football Graduates