Husker wide receiver Taariq Allen wants to get a business degree to pursue his dream in Boston, his hometown.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

From A to Z, Student-Athlete Grads Equipped for Life

By NU Athletic Communications

Reception Ends with a Zing: Go Big Red, Baby!

Randy York’s N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

Last Saturday, 55 Nebraska student-athletes finally could put their crowning accomplishment on a resume. After receiving their college diplomas at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the newly honored group can forever say they are graduates of the University of Nebraska. Just like the hills that come alive with the sound of music, the careers for all new student-athlete grads brighten and become so very real. “What a great day this is!” said Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska Athletics’ longtime Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics. “I truly admire every student-athlete graduate for the way they’ve balanced athletics and academics while serving our community.”

Leblanc pointed out that the May 2015 class of student-athlete graduates came from 21 states as well as Colombia and Jamaica. They received their degrees in 30 different majors while representing 21 of our 24 varsity sports programs. They came from cities and towns stretching from Portland, Ore., to Jacksonville, Fla., and from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Troy, N.Y. Leblanc couldn’t help but acknowledge the newest student-athlete graduates who came to the University of Nebraska from cities and towns named Mountain Lake, Little Rock, Flower Mound, and Round Rock. “All came here to get an outstanding education, compete in athletics at the highest level and serve their community,” Leblanc said. “Some are the first in the family to get a degree and will pass on academic excellence to the next generation. All 55 (counting an MBA degree awarded to football's Patrick Smith at Friday's postgraduate commencement at PBA) have contributed to the tradition of Nebraska being the national leader in academic success.”

At Nebraska, Teamwork, Hard Work Vital for Overall Success

That’s a fact, not a boast. Nebraska’s state-of-the-art $8.7 million Dick and Peg Herman Student Life Complex has been Husker student-athletes home away from home – a place not only for academic needs to be met, but also a place where they could realize their full potential well beyond the sports in which they competed. Yes, a nation-leading 315 Academic All-Americans reflect Nebraska’s rich tradition. So does a nation-leading 17 NCAA Top Ten Award Winners – the highest individual honor selected annually from 450,000 student-athletes across all three NCAA divisions. The Top Ten is a “who’s who” in college athletic/academic individual combos – a list launched in 1981 with Husker All-America football lineman Randy Schleusener the first winner and NCAA singles tennis runner-up Mary Weatherholt the most recent Husker honoree.

Nebraska’s latest class of talented graduates would agree that it took hard work and teamwork to reach their goals and graduate from college. Families, friends, professors, advisors, administrators, and coaches are all part of the process. Parents, however, deserve a special kudo for trusting the University of Nebraska for being a great place for their daughters and sons to develop as a person. Ask Givens Price, a Nebraska football Accounting and Management major (pictured above) who graduated last Saturday before playing his final season with the Huskers this fall. “Saturday was a time to present the physical evidence of what I accomplished here,” said Price, a Houston native who called graduation “the result of all the hard work, time, sacrifice and dedication I’ve put into this, and I’m not done yet. I plan on pursuing my master’s degree.” Joining Givens to support his college degree were his mom, girlfriend, godson and his mother, plus two good friends he’s known since middle school and their mother.

College Graduates Different People Than They Were on Arrival

Commencement speakers point out that college graduates are not the same people they were when they first arrived on campus. Nebraska Athletics puts a premium on community involvement from the time student-athletes arrive until they leave, “I know for a fact there is not a group of individuals who graduated last Saturday who impacted the University of Nebraska and the community more than this group,” Leblanc said. “The education they’ve earned is very important, but we urge all not to underestimate the importance and the power of the journey they went through as student-athletes. It’s a very different experience than most college students.”

Why? “Because their day might begin at 5:30 a.m. with a 7,000-meter swim or a 12-mile run,” said Leblanc (pictured above). “Student-athletes are different because after they leave the weight room, training room or film room, they hurry to class, go to tutoring, and then have lunch, so they have to time to pack their bags and travel to compete in places like University Park, Pennsylvania, and Seattle, Washington. Student-athletes are different because after everyone turns off ESPN and goes to bed after watching them compete, student-athletes do an interview, ice their knees, shower, then fly home or hop on a bus for a 3-hour trip back to Lincoln.”

Nebraska’s Top Goals: Success in Academics, in Athletics, in Life

Let the record show that Nebraska is different than the vast majority of college departments of athletics. The Huskers are different because when student-athletes finally do have free time they thought was their own, Nebraska recommends visiting patients in local hospitals to brighten the day for some of their biggest fans. Or, perhaps, take the time to interact with and support kids with special needs. Giving back is woven into Nebraska’s culture. Husker student-athletes strive to challenge their minds and bodies beyond belief, but still take time to serve the community.

Because of that incredible mindset, Leblanc and Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills (pictured above), believe the Huskers equip their student-athletes to excel in every aspect of life. Excelling in academics, athletics and life skills equips each and every student-athlete to have the confidence, dedication and determination to take on social challenges and make a difference in the community.

Zimmer: Nebraska Support System Doesn’t End with a Degree

In his address to the May 2015 student-athlete graduation class at last Saturday afternoon’s reception inside Memorial Stadium, Zimmer thanked the grads for representing Nebraska with pride while serving the community and “dedicating yourself day in and day out to achieve success,” he said. “Here at Nebraska, you have had access to some of the very best support in the country, and please know that the support system doesn’t end today with your college graduation. Those who attended our senior celebration a few weeks ago know and will remember that Nebraska’s commitment to each of you is ongoing.”

“Ongoing” includes support related to medical issues, disengagement from athletics, nutrition education, career support and staying connected. “Please know that we will be there for you and look forward to helping you with your transition,” said Zimmer, who urged Husker letterwinners and graduates to return to Lincoln whenever possible to attend N-Club social events and reunions or participate in service projects and major life skills events. Here’s the kicker: Zimmer believes every student-athlete has been immersed in Nebraska’s positively charged culture to succeed, including every graduate on the third-level of Memorial Stadium last Saturday. “We want every Husker student-athlete from A to Z to feel welcome,” he said.

From A to Z, Husker Student-Athletes Are Equipped for Life

Somehow, Zimmer’s sweeping quote struck a chord. Since there’s a real and compelling story behind each of Nebraska’s nearly five dozen recent college graduates, I will take the easy way out and provide an update on the bookends for the May 2015 class of Husker student-athlete graduates. Each year, after Husker student-athletes walk across the stage to receive their college diplomas, they get their official send-off a couple hours later from Nebraska Athletics, which invites the latest graduates and their families to gather in Memorial Stadium for a special reception. Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst and other staff members offer congratulatory comments and present the graduates with several gifts, including the prized Nebraska Scholar-Athlete ring, signifying the incredible dedication it takes to be a Division 1 student-athlete.

Husker football wide receiver Taariq Allen, a Child, Youth and Family Studies major from the Rivers School in Weston, Mass., a Boston suburb, was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten Conference selection and the 2013 winner of the Pat Clare Award. He was also the first Nebraska student-athlete graduate to receive the ring that makes a strong statement about who he is, what he’s accomplished and what he will become. The last Husker to receive that same coveted ring last Saturday was three-time Academic All-Big Ten Conference swimmer Megan Ziemann, an Interior Design major from Cedar Park Vista Ridge in Round Rock, Texas.

Allen, Ziemann Share Life Plans; Kuhlkin Begins Next Chapter

With his mom, dad, aunt and girlfriend in attendance at the reception, Allen said his diploma and the ring that came with it are the foundation for his future. “Life beyond football is not guaranteed,” he said. “I put a lot into my education, and it’s paid off. We have a great support system here, and I just feel like earning the degree is so much more important than being on the field. I have a goal to go back to Boston and set up a community center for kids. I’m hoping to go on and get a business degree and thinking about going into real estate. My family is already intact with some of that, and Nebraska has prepared me well for anything.”

Ziemann enjoyed majoring in interior design and has finalized her career choice. “I’m going on to graduate school,” she said, “so I can go into elementary education and eventually teach art. I love the size of Lincoln. It’s a nice city that still has a small-town college feel. Everyone is so close, and community is so important. That’s why I want to stay here and live here.” Ziemann’s parents and grandparents attended commencement and the graduation reception immediately afterwards. So did her two brothers, ages 24 and 19, both of whom made their first trip to Nebraska. They were impressed and could see why their sister was willing to work hard in school and bond with her teammates to paint the portrait for what she wants to be the rest of her life. A native of Round Rock, Texas, Megan Ziemann is fully equipped to live her dream, and here’s the best news of all – she will always be welcomed back.

The same is true of Liz Kuhlkin, the Schenectady, N.Y., native, 2015 National Bowler of the Year and three-time first-team All-American (pictured above) during her stellar Husker career, which culminated this spring with another NCAA national team championship. “This has been such an incredible finish in my career that for a long time, I was falsely thinking it wasn’t over,” said Kuhlkin, a Criminology and Criminal Justice major and 2015 Nebraska Female Athlete of the Year. “But having graduated, I realize now is the time for the next chapter in my life. My parents are driving back to New York with all my stuff, and I’m driving to Wisconsin to compete in a tournament. My roots are planted here, but the train is moving on, and I’m really excited about it.”

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