I love commencement exercises. I love to witness graduates - wearing their cap and gowns with the tassel up top - flying freely about in the air.
I love it when a school band proudly plays its Alma Mater as the candidates for graduation assemble in single file lines, marching toward their seats while celebrating scholastic achievement among faculty, families and friends.
This year a vast majority of seniors within the confines of Georgia who were student-athletes in high school will also celebrate graduation this spring.
Most student-athletes will attend a college or university in the fall on either a full or partial scholarship. And many will obtain some sort of financial aid in order to participate in sports on a collegiate level.
In fact, statistics from the NCAA show that the estimated probability of high school seniors who will participate in sports beyond the high school interscholastic level is only 5.7 percent.
The NCAA also shows that the percentage of students going from college athletics to professional sports is just 1.8, and only as few as 0.08 percent of athletes will actually become a professional athlete.
The cold and harsh reality is that many high school athletes will not make it to the next level, which is why it is so important for kids to receive a good solid education.
Student-athletes are expected to lead by example in the classroom as well as on and off the playing field. What many folks fail to realize is that participation in sports is a privilege, not a right.
That being said, I wish to never see a student-athlete end up like Dexter Manley, a former defensive end who played in the NFL and CFL from 1981 to 1994.
During the U.S. sub-committee on education hearings in 1988, Manley - the 1986 NFL Defensive Player of the Year - testified before the committee that during his academic career from second grade all the way to his senior year at Oklahoma State University he could not read or write.
In defense of Manley, Houston (Texas) city schools at the time had neither the money nor resources to diagnose his problem. Yet, the school administrators passed him right on through. Even at OSU, Dexter managed to make friends with students and faculty to help him hide this dark secret just because he was a football player.
The Washington Redskins drafted Manley in the fifth round (119th overall) in 1981. At the time, he couldn't even read the contract that he was signing.
Manley depended on his agents and other "trusted" associates to make all of his financial decisions for him. As a result, he lost millions of dollars because those who knew him took advantage due in part to his inabilities with the pen and paper.
It hurts me to hear about kids, even talented athletes, who can help a program become successful but yet are ineligible because of their academics. It is frustrating to see these kids in the stands aching because they are not a part of it, yet I don't feel sorry for them in the least.
Student-athletes simply cannot treat education like some part-time job, while on the other hand treating sports as a full-time job. Education must be a top priority.
As a community, we must emphasize the importance of letting it be known that student-athletes are receiving the best education possible. To do that we must get involved with our children, not just for sporting events but through encouragement and love to allow them to know that they can be winners in the classroom as well.
The final part that I love most regarding graduation is at the end - when the commencement has finally ended and the graduates throw their hats high in the air as a sign of victory.
Turns out getting a good education will do that to a person.
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