"Thank you for what you've given us. We have the best job in America because we get to work for you."
Those were the words of UT Women's Athletics Director Chris Plonsky as she addressed the Longhorn graduating seniors at the annual seniors luncheon this week. Each May, the UT Women's Athletics Student Services office holds a special luncheon for the graduating seniors, with Longhorn coaches, athletic administrators and faculty members also in attendance.
On May 9th, nearly all of the 35 seniors who are scheduled to graduate this May, or in the summer or fall of 2005, gathered at the UT Club for lunch.
Those who were present represented the "best of the best" of Texas student-athletes. In the room were numerous All-Americans and National Player of the Year candidates, along with Academic All-Americans, Big 12 Conference champions, role players, stellar students with 4.0 GPA's and community service leaders.
Those who were not present had great reason not to be. They were either completing internships off-campus, competing in their sports (such as basketball standouts Jamie Carey and Annissa Hastings, attending WNBA training camp for the Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever, respectively) or getting ready to sign endorsement sponsorships (like golfer Perry Swenson, in Portland, Ore. at the Nike, Inc. headquarters).
"We always talk about how University of Texas student-athletes are national models," noted Plonsky. "You all came here because you are extremely competitive. You are winners who came to compete in a high-profile environment, academically and athletically. You are about to become an elite group of distinguished UT alums. We know it was hard to get through, difficult to cope with all the pressures, and I marvel at your abilities to balance it all.
When you look back at it all, the single most meaningful thing will be getting your degree from Texas. You are all going to make something out of your lives, and will continue to make us proud."
Dr. Linda Ferreira-Buckley, Associate Professor in the Department of English who chairs the UT Women's Athletics Council, remarked how proud her colleagues are when discussing the women's athletics program.
"I know the faculty members are proud of you female student-athletes with your high GPA's and with the fact that your graduation rate is much higher than the student body at large," noted Ferriera-Buckley. "You have done well in class, you have excellence in your sports, and you perform community service. Given all that you have to do, we are grateful to you and to your coaches for your high performances academically and athletically."
Everyone had a story to tell - a SUCCESSFUL story. They all sat with their respective teams and coaching staffs, but the laughter, camaraderie and applause during the luncheon showed the mutual respect and caring each senior had for the others in the room.
They shared the past, with each team designating one teammate to tell a team story or two.
They shared the present, with thoughts and anxieties about upcoming final papers, projects and exams.
And, they shared in the future, talking about their plans - firm or not-so-firm ! - after getting their degree from UT. Some were starting graduate studies, some are ready to enter the working world, while some (swimmers Jenna Bridges, Liz Hoffman, Michelle Molina, soccer's Alex Gagarin and softball's Melanie Jarrett) discussed their immediate plans of traveling around Europe.
There were common themes as each senior spoke. Themes of "connection", "community" and "friendship" dominated the conversations.
It was not surprising that EVERY team story centered around a humorous, off-the-court, off-the-field situation. Favorite moments? So many to choose from, but in the end, the stories they told were not about winning a key Top 25 contest or taking home a Big 12 title and lighting the UT Tower - all of which did happen for many of the teams.
Instead, the stories told were about their off-field, off-court exploits as teammates: getting stuck as a team in a steaming hot hotel elevator in San Diego (rowing); sabotaging dorm rooms and playing practical jokes on teammates (soccer); taking a midnight swim in the ocean after winning a tournament in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands - along with Coach Conradt! (basketball); running around Rome on a team scavenger hunt during a European exhibition tour (volleyball); having a smoky hotel fire force the team into a few rooms with mattresses and pillows for a night on a Big 12 away weekend trip (softball); and getting caught, fined and punished by their coaches after holding an "apple bowling" contest in the dorm hallways during Christmas break training (swimming)!
All laughter aside, the afternoon wrapped up with some great messages for and thank you's to the senior class.
"Serving on the Women's Athletics Council has been an eye-opener for me," stated Geraldo Interiano, a UT Law School student and a Student Representative on the Council. "It has given me lots more respect for student-athletes and what they have to go through on a daily basis. I feel privileged to have watched them compete and to have met many of them. For me, serving on the Council has been a wonderful way to give back to the University."
Texas women's co-head swimming coach Jill Sterkel, herself an Olympic gold medalist and Texas Ex, echoed the importance of "giving back". Sterkel spoke on behalf of the Longhorn coaches and addressed all the seniors at the end of the luncheon.
"As you move forward, it is your responsibility to give back to UT," Sterkel stated. "There is a legacy here at Texas, and you need to continue to contribute to it. You contributed by coming here and representing UT, and now, we need your help in giving back. Don't ever forget about the amazing relationships and connections you've formed here; your next step in being a Longhorn is to continue those connections."
Below is a sampling of the soon-to-be Texas graduates, their majors and what the future holds for them.
Jody Bell (education/sport management major): will graduate this summer after completing an internship with a local Nike affiliate
Kala Bowers (education/kinesiology major): plans to teach and coach in the future after getting married this July to Don Gaines (Texas `04)
Heather Schreiber (education major): will graduate in December of 2005 ... Plans to teach and coach at the high school level
Monica Maxwell (social work major): will graduate in the fall after completing an internship with Austin's Child Protective Services organization
Lisa Ferrero (sport management/education major): will participate at the NCAA National Championships, then turn professional ... will graduate in December
Mariana Salazar (kinesiology major): will graduate in December and hopefully will pursue a job in retail merchandising
Karen Glazebrook (psychology and kinesiology major): accepted to graduate school at the University of Saskatchewan where she will continue her studies in health behavior focusing on research in exercise, disease prevention and health promotion
Brannon Johnson (ethnic studies and dance major): graduates this summer and plans to go to dance auditions in her hometown of Philadelphia and also in New York, before attending graduate school
Danielle Kowalski (double major in radio/tv/film and public relations): will graduate in December after doing a five-month internship in New York City for the David Lettermen Show
Pam Painter (physics): will graduate in May and pursue a position in the engineering field
Alex Gagarin (Plan II Honors/history major): graduates in May, then travels to Europe for the summer before deciding on her career path
Kelly McDonald (biology/pre-med major): graduates in May and will attend the University of Colorado Dental School in the fall
Monica Askew (education major): will graduate in December of 2005
Amy Bradford (health promotions and fitness major): graduates in December of 2005 after completing a semester-long internship in promotions/marketing
Alexis Garcia (education major): graduates in May; at the conclusion of the softball season, Alexis will head to Washington, D.C. to serve a summer internship in the White House, working in the Office of Presidential Correspondence ... This fall, she returns to UT to start her master's degree in UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs
Melanie Jarrett (journalism major): graduates in May; travels to Europe (Holland, Germany and France) this summer before moving to Athens, Georgia to pursue a master's degree in journalism at the University of Georgia
Lacey Robinson (education/kinesiology major): will graduate this May, then take pre-requisite courses in order to go to audiology school
Lizi Sowers (sociology major): graduates in May; hopes to teach and coach next fall in the Round Rock (Texas) ISD
Wynter Turner (psychology major): will graduate in December
Jenna Bridges (completing her master's degree in accounting/business): will graduate this May and has already secured a position at the nationally-recognized Price Waterhouse accounting firm; will first back-pack this summer throughout Europe
Kaela Humphries (corporate communications major): December graduate, pursuing jobs in her field
Liz Hoffman (finance major): graduates in December after traveling and back-packing through Europe for a month this summer and completing a internship in the fall .. She notes that she has been "saving for ages" to take her European adventure!
Michelle Molina (corporate communications major): graduates in May and is pursuing opportunities in sales and marketing in Austin and in her home state of Arizona; will travel to Europe in June
Paige Nath (speech pathology major): graduates in May and will attend the University of Kansas next fall to pursue a master's degree in speech pathology
Lauren Niemcewicz (journalism/photo journalism major): will graduate this summer after completing an internship with an Austin marketing agency and will then pursue a full-time job
Alisa Schuknecht (nutrition major): graduates in December, and will look to attend graduate school in nutrition and eventually working in Latin America on childhood nutrition issues
Sarah Wanezek (childhood development/family sciences major): will compete on the 2005 USA World University Games team in Turkey this summer after graduation, and then will look for a career working with children's issues
Kathy Hahn (kinesiology/education major with teaching certification): was forced to retire from volleyball last year due to a series of injuries; she will graduate this May and is in the process of applying for jobs
Bethany Howden (corporate communications major): went to Puerto Rico to play professional volleyball this semester, returned to school to complete spring classes and will graduate in December