UW Health Sports Medicine 

Graduation a special time for student-athletes

ON WISCONSIN Student-athletes wearing their graduation stoles
Student-athletes wearing their graduation stoles

Dec. 20, 2009

View photos from the event

MADISON, Wis. -- With graduation ceremonies set for Sunday morning and afternoon, it marks the culmination of all the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that students have put in over the last four-plus years.

Student-athletes at the University of Wisconsin know especially what it's like to put in the time and effort to succeed. By having to balance school work with practices and games, their degrees will serve as a testament to their accomplishments on and off the field.

"I know we spend a lot of time on our work, so it means a lot," said swimmer Christine Zwiegers about earning a degree from the UW.

Eighteen student-athletes were in attendance on Saturday morning at a special graduation brunch held at UW's Heritage Hall.

Following some opening comments from Terry Murawski, Executive Director of the National W Club, former men's swimmer and current president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Nick Fulton, spoke about the exciting transition that the student-athletes are going through. He spoke of embracing the uncertainties that await them in their future endeavors.

After Fulton's speech, Doug Tiedt, Assistant AD for Academic Services, and John Jentz, Associate Athletics Director for Business Operations, distributed red graduation stoles to each of the student-athletes.

A common theme seemed to exist throughout the student-athletes, that of sadness about leaving school but pride in earning a degree from Wisconsin.

"I'm going to be sad," Zwiegers said about her emotions during tomorrow's commencement ceremony. "It's finally coming to an end, and I don't think we ever thought about this day on the day we started."

Fellow swimmer Jen Illescas said she'll be sad, excited and nervous when she walks tomorrow. She also said it's great to earn a degree from UW.

"There are a lot of memories coming back," she said. "It's going to be something I'll remember.

"It's a great university," Illescas added. "To be a Badger anywhere, there are Badger connections in every state."

Zwiegers, who will graduate with a math degree, plans to attend medical school back in her home country of South Africa, while Illescas, a sociology and women's studies major, will move to Chicago to work in client relations for CDW.

Kylah Barbola and Brittany Renault, both members of the women's rowing team, both expressed sadness and nervousness.

"It's sad, but scary a little bit to not be able to know where everyone is going to be even a couple months from now," Barbola, a communication arts and gender and women's studies major, said. She did also add that Facebook and social networking will make staying in touch easier.

Barbola will be starting a new position with the Minnesota Twins, working with media and community relations at the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla.

Renault, a special education major, said she'll be nervous.

"I'll probably cry," she added. "It's surreal. I don't really know how to deal with it because going into the real world makes me a little nervous. I'm old enough to do and I'm prepared, but it's really weird.

"I'm honored to graduate from here," Renault added. "Every person I run into, whenever they see a `W' or Wisconsin, they always ask me questions. It's such an honor to graduate from here."

Renault will work as a substitute teacher in Madison upon graduating.

Jaevery McFadden, a linebacker on the football team and sociology major, isn't sure how he's going to feel when he walks tomorrow.

"I think it'll hit me when I walk across that stage and receive my diploma, it's not really hitting me right now," he said. "It's like on senior day, it didn't really hit me on that day until I was walking out that tunnel."

McFadden, who plans to pursue a career in the NFL but is also looking at possibly becoming a teacher, said that he was the first from his family to graduate with a diploma.

"It's a beautiful thing and, to get the degree from the University of Wisconsin, it's definitely something to be proud about," McFadden said. " I'm going to cherish it for a long time."

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