Graduation: A Time to Reflect, Honor and Celebrate
Saturday’s University of Nebraska Spring Commencement ceremony inside Pinnacle Bank Arena included 55 Husker student-athletes among nearly 2,000 UNL undergraduates and another 800 graduate students. In addition to the honored graduates, commencement featured outgoing NU President JB Milliken as the keynote speaker and our own legendary Tom Osborne, who received the Nebraska Builder Award for service to a university and a state that he helped elevate nationally.
The Nebraska Alumni Association’s ConGRADuation party in the nearby Railyard was a fun and festive place to celebrate for many grads. Our own Nebraska Athletics Graduation Reception Luncheon in the West Stadium Club honored our student-athletes two floors above where they spent countless hours in the Dick and Peg Herman Family Student Life Complex. Inside the facility we proudly display the names of nearly 6,000 Husker letterwinners who have graduated. The weekend enabled our newest grads to show their families the Hall of Distinction where their own names soon will be etched to represent their rightful place in Husker history. It was nice to see more than 400 family members fill our third-floor view of Nebraska’s football stadium, basketball home and baseball and softball stadiums. With that inspiring backdrop, it felt good to remind everyone that we were gathering to honor all graduates for achieving their and our No. 1 goal – a diploma.
Although many of the recently graduated student-athletes will soon be leaving our campus to make their mark in the real world, our commitment to each and every graduate will continue throughout the rest of their lives. In addition to career services, postgraduate education assistance, networking opportunities, and continued healthcare support when appropriate and permissible, our N-Club is committed to engage and to serve our newest graduates. Our commitment to total-person development and the health and well-being of each student-athlete will continue long after graduation, making Nebraska a very special place.
Eighteen Husker female and male track and field student-athletes graduated, including long jumper/triple jumper Seth Wiedel, Nebraska’s 2014 Male Student-Athlete of the Year and a 2014 Big Ten Medal of Honor winner. We also honored six members of our women’s swimming and diving team and four members from each of our football and soccer teams, plus three members each from baseball, women’s gymnastics, men’s gymnastics and women’s basketball. Rifle, men’s golf and men’s basketball each had two graduates. Bowling, softball, wrestling, men’s tennis, and women’s tennis each had one graduate.
Our 2014 class represented 13 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, and five countries: Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Singapore, and the United States of America, with 22 of our 55 graduates hailing from Nebraska.
There are many incredible success stories among this prestigious group, including Jake Griess, our Community Outreach Officer for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Jake has volunteered countless hours to enable others to experience meaningful, life-changing moments and is anticipating a unique experience of his own on a mission trip to Asia this summer. This spring 2014 class also includes Jordan Hooper, one of the most decorated Husker female basketball players of all time. She has been a special ambassador for her sport and her university and we wish Jordan the best with the Tulsa Shock in the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Two of our student-athletes who graduated Saturday – Sunny Russell and Eric Schryver – each earned $7,500 NCAA postgraduate scholarships. Emily Wong, our All-America gymnast who will graduate next December, also won an NCAA postgraduate scholarship, and we are proud to have three of the 58 total postgraduate scholarship recipients this spring. Sunny, the president of SAAC this past year, also received a $7,500 postgraduate scholarship from the Big Ten Conference. Football walk-on Brandon Chapek, who graduated last December, was the male recipient of the $7,500 Big Ten postgraduate scholarship. Brandon and Jake Long, another football walk-on and December 2013 graduate, each received a $15,000 Frank Solich Postgraduate Scholarship. Both will use their scholarships at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Jake will attend Medical School and Brandon will attend Dental College. Sunny will pursue her master’s degree after completion of her one-year internship with the NCAA in Indianapolis.
While the spring semester has come to a close, we are still competing in several sports. I’m looking forward to watching the opportunities our softball and baseball programs have earned in the postseason. Congratulations to Rhonda Revelle, named last week the 2014 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year for guiding her team to the regular-season co-championship. A vote from her peers was the fourth Coach of the Year accolade in Coach Revelle’s career. Her team has won 15 of its last 17 games and has earned an at-large invitation to the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Our No. 18-ranked team will play Kansas Friday in an NCAA Regional game in Columbia, Mo. Missouri, a No. 15 national seed, and MVC champion Bradley are the other teams in the regional.
Like many others, I also will be following closely Coach Darin Erstad’s baseball team, which swept a solid Michigan State team Saturday, Sunday and Monday in East Lansing. It was a crucial series to keep Nebraska in contention for a Big Ten title before coming back to host a three-game series against Illinois Thursday, Friday and Saturday to wrap up the regular season.
Just like the ultimate goal of every college student-athlete is a college diploma, the ultimate goal for our baseball and softball teams is to qualify for the College World Series. Omaha has hosted the national baseball championship tournament since 1950, and Oklahoma City has hosted the national women’s softball championship since 1982. Both College World Series destinations are steeped in history, and it’s no surprise the NCAA has found the Midwest to be the right choice to host both national championship events. We feel fortunate to be able to play at TD Ameritrade Park during the regular-season against Creighton and we are eager to be the host school for the first Big Ten Baseball Tournament at TD Ameritrade Park beginning on May 21. With more than 5,000 all-session passes already sold, we hope to have great support not only for our team, but overall in hopes of becoming a permanent host in Omaha.
I want to acknowledge two of our baseball players who missed their own college graduation over the weekend because they were in East Lansing with their teammates. Congratulations Luke Bublitz and Ty Kildow on your graduation. Congratulations, too, to Bryan Peters, who had completed his baseball eligibility but made sure he was among Saturday’s graduates.
Congratulations Gabby Banda, who completed her softball eligibility last year but has been a part of this year’s team as a graduate assistant. A native of Angleton, Texas, and a four-year starter for Nebraska on the left side of the Husker infield, Gabby bypassed Nebraska’s trip to Evanston over the weekend, choosing instead to wear a cap and gown and graduate. Gabby’s mom, dad, three brothers and a sister-in-law attended commencement to honor Gabby, the first in her family ever to attend college. We are all proud of Gabby, who has worked hard to earn Academic All-Big Ten honors, plus third-team All-Big Ten recognition.
We are equally proud of each of our 55 student-athletes who graduated this weekend and hold a special respect for those who come back to finish their degrees. Former Nebraska basketball player Bernard Garner, for instance, played two years as a Husker and scored 649 points after transferring from Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff. A 6-foot-7 Louisiana native, Bernard and his family moved back to Nebraska about eight years ago. He proudly received his diploma Saturday at the age of 41 and might have been the most emotional graduate we had among the May 2014 class. He could not thank Dennis Leblanc enough for asking, encouraging and motivating him to come back and get his degree after pro basketball in Europe, marriage and kids. The degree is the reward for his academic commitment to Child, Youth and Family Studies. Congratulations, Bernard, for taking care of unfinished business. Hopefully, what you’ve achieved will inspire others to follow.
Until next time, stay positive and Go Big Red!
Director of Athletics
Spring 2014 Husker Graduating Class
Please click here to view a photo gallery of the graduation ceremonies at PBA and of the Nebraska Athletics Graduation Reception which took place on Saturday, May 12, 2014 in the West Stadium Club.
Please click here to view a photo gallery of Nebraska's Spring 2014 graduates and click each for individual action photo
Husker Softball Clubhouse Erupts When a Rival Wins
Two weekends ago, after Coach Rhonda Revelle’s team beat Indiana, 8-3, to produce its first 40-win regular season in eight years, the Huskers needed Wisconsin to upset Michigan before we could claim a share of our first Big Ten regular-season championship. As Nebraska fans were saying their goodbyes to the Edwards twins on Senior Day, Tatum and Taylor were still signing autographs outside Bowlin Stadium. Inside the press box, Nebraska formed an impromptu watch party for the Wisconsin-Michigan game on the Internet. When the Badgers upset the No. 6-rated Wolverines, it was a classic case of justifiable jubilation. As fun as that moment was, there has been so much to cheer about this season, including nine individual honors to members of our softball team. Three Huskers made All-Big Ten First Team – sophomore Hailey Decker and seniors Tatum and Taylor Edwards. Alicia Armstrong, MJ Knighten and Emily Lockman earned second-team All-Big Ten recognition. Tatum and Taylor made the All-Defensive Team. Mattie Fowler, a junior co-captain who suffered a season-ending injury in the 11th game of the season, won the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. We congratulate Coach Revelle on her Big Ten Coach of the Year honor and Gabby Banda, who is now a true Husker graduate assistant coach after receiving her diploma at last Saturday’s commencement. I would add two more significant softball accomplishments this season. Coach Revelle’s team set a school record for home attendance and also beat its own record for hosting the World’s Largest Softball Tailgate.
Husker Baseball Completes Fourth Big Ten Sweep
Nebraska’s No. 26-ranked baseball team completed a three-game series sweep at Michigan State, giving the Huskers four Big Ten series sweeps this season. That feat marks the first time in 14 years that Nebraska has swept four conference series in the same season. The Huskers are on a 21-5 roll since the start of April and the next time Nebraska wins will mark Darin Erstad’s 100th career victory as the Huskers’ head coach. The Huskers finish their regular season this week against Illinois. Games one and two are Thursday and Friday at Hawks Field with 6:35 p.m. starts. Saturday’s regular-season finale is Senior Day with the first pitch scheduled at 1:05 p.m. Congratulations to the seven seniors who will be honored Saturday – Luke Bublitz, Christian DeLeon, Bob Greco, Zach Hirsch, Ty Kildow, Tyler King and Michael Pritchard. Please come out and support the Huskers as they finish regular-season play. Two weekends ago, Nebraska set a season-high attendance of 13,944 at Hawks Field for the Penn State series, and we’re hoping to better that mark against Illinois.
UP's Big Red Express Connecting Coaches, Communities
To help celebrate Nebraska’s 125th season of football, we are teaming up with Union Pacific Railroad, a 152-year-old company with roots in Nebraska, to connect our coaches with the communities of Columbus, Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte. Husker head coaches will board the 14-car special passenger train on Saturday, June 28, to meet fans and thank them for their record attendance and overall support during the 2013-14 season. Several campus special guest VIPs also will be aboard and available at all four “whistle stops”. Each stop will include a few short speeches, a proclamation presented to each city, and coaches mingling throughout the crowd thanking fans for their support. The Big Red Express will begin at 8 a.m. in Omaha, the Union Pacific headquarters, and end late Saturday afternoon in North Platte, home of the world’s largest classification rail yard.
Department of Athletics Supports Dave Humm Courage Open
The Dave Humm Courage Open is scheduled for Sunday, June 29th at Arrowhead Golf Club in Littleton, Colo. This event is a fundraiser for the benefit of the Husker Greats Foundation headed by Jerry Murtaugh, an All-America linebacker and team captain on Nebraska’s first national championship football team in 1970. The foundation supports former Husker student-athletes in need and has established what is believed to be the second of its kind non-profit group that helps former teammates meet overwhelming medical issues head on. Jerry does a great job as president of the Husker Greats Foundation. Former Husker fullback Joel Makovicka is the vice-president, and Dave Hoppen, Nebraska’s all-time leading basketball scorer, is the treasurer. The first Husker Greats Foundation recipient was former quarterback Dave Humm, who has been in a wheelchair for more than 25 years because of multiple sclerosis. Jerry said the Foundation’s next recipient is former Husker basketball player Larry Florence, who is undergoing treatments for cancer. Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier and former National Basketball Player of the Year Karen Jennings are among Husker letterwinners that will participate in the Dave Humm Courage Open next month.
Five Huskers Named National Football Foundation Society
Jake Long, Spencer Long, Brent Qvale, Patrick Smith and C.J. Zimmerer are new members of the National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society. To meet criteria for this award, nominees must have an undergraduate minimum cumulative GPA of 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, must meet all NCAA-mandated progress toward degree requirements, and must have completed their final year of eligibility in the 2013 season or have already graduated and officially declared for the NFL draft. Congratulations and best wishes in continuing your academic careers.
James Linder Interim President for University of Nebraska
A salute to James Linder, who has agreed to serve as this great university’s interim president, effective May 3. Dr. Linder has served in faculty and administrative positions at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and in the Office of the President on a full-time or part-time basis for more than 30 years. Linder takes over for JB Milliken, who gave an excellent commencement address last Saturday, and will become chancellor of the City University of New York’s 269,000-student system. Thank you, JB, for your contributions to Nebraska and congratulations to Bob Phares, who greeted the graduates on behalf of the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents. Bob did an excellent job, and I’m sure that his granddaughter, who was among those in a cap and gown, would agree with that statement.
Joseph Francisco to Lead UNL's College of Arts and Sciences
Welcome Joseph Francisco, who recently has been selected as the dean of UNL’s College of Arts and Sciences, UNL’s largest college. He has been a distinguished professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Chemistry at Purdue University, and will begin his UNL tenure on July 1. Our College of Arts and Sciences has about 5,600 students, roughly 23 percent of the student body. Joe earned his doctorate degree in chemical physics from MIT. He replaces David Manderscheid, who is now Executive Dean and Vice Provost at fellow Big Ten Conference member Ohio State. Joe will be a great leader, and his vision will have a direct impact on our Department of Athletics. We currently have a total of 143 student-athletes with majors in the Department of Arts and Sciences, and 16 of our 55 student-athletes who graduated last Saturday received their degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences.