Aggie student-athletes embrace college experience--and a diploma--
at this weekend's ceremonies
by Chandler Smith
For several student-athletes at Texas A&M University, graduation – an often bittersweet experience – is on the horizon. Though they leave the University as students, the core values and education that embody the Aggie experience will live on and bolster them as they plunge into the journey of life.
As with all graduates at Texas A&M, student-athletes will each leave with an especially invaluable item – a degree. Most will also graduate in possession of an Aggie Ring, a symbol of the collective spirit, tradition, values and experience unique only to Aggieland.
Kristen Grant, a senior and member of the Aggie women’s basketball team, spoke of the values both items possess.
“I literally cried when I got my Aggie Ring I was so excited,” Grant said. “The Aggie Ring connects you to all Aggies worldwide. People see the Aggie Ring and they’ll come talk and build relationships. It gets you in the door even if it might not land you a job. People who have a degree from A&M are very successful. There’s no school like it.”
- Matt Joeckel
There still comes a specific and special uniqueness, however, to the student-athlete experience. While important lessons are learned in the academic arena, so too are they taught within the context of athletics.
Grant said she cherishes the advice she received from women’s basketball head coach Gary Blair.
“The biggest thing from Coach Blair was just getting out and being able to talk to people,” Grant said. “People think he’s all basketball but talking to people was the most valuable thing I learned. I was always a shy kind of person but when I arrived my freshman year he would stick me out there and say, ‘Go’. You learn quickly how to talk and listen to people. All the things you need for the real world he taught us here.”
Aggie football’s junior quarterback Matt Joeckel, while still interested in returning for his final year of football eligibility post-graduation, said he appreciated Aggieland’s emphasis of a family culture.
“I’d say it’s just all about family, a family that’s so close even though you’re coming to a school with 50,000-plus people,” Joeckel said. “You go on campus, or anywhere off campus, everyone is just like brothers and sisters. You relate to Aggies in a different way.”
A player for both head football coach Kevin Sumlin and former coach Mike Sherman, Joeckel said he admired both staffs for their character and honesty – virtues he would want to emulate in his own life.
“I came to A&M for [Coach] Sherman and that staff because they were such great people, but [Sumlin’s] staff is a great group of men I would want to be like,” Joeckel said. “They’ve always been honest and straightforward, something that’s sometimes tough to do in that profession. It’s been a privilege to work with both coaching staffs.”
31 student-athletes will congregate Friday at Reed Arena for what should be a memorable graduation ceremony as they bid farewell to Aggieland. Each will be empowered with a Texas A&M degree but – perhaps more importantly – they will all draw from the unique student-athlete experience.
“I am extremely proud of these young people for taking advantage of an opportunity to continue to play a sport they love, while also earning a degree from our world-class university,” Athletics Director Eric Hyman said. “These student-athletes have put in a lot of time, effort and dedication to reach this goal. Everyone who has supported them throughout their lives is to be congratulated as well.”