By the end of the weekend, 70 University of Miami student-athletes will begin preparations for “the next step” with bachelor’s degrees firmly in hand.
Some will accept one-year internships with open arms. Others will prepare for the start of graduate school this coming fall. Many more will be accepting their first jobs, ditching the playing fields and practice gyms to begin their professional life in the harrowing “real world.”
But on Thursday night, shortly after celebrating four years of hard work in the classroom at Commencement ceremonies, seven baseball student-athletes (temporarily) swapped degrees for boarding passes and hopped on a plane bound for Durham, N.C., and a series with the Duke Blue Devils.
“It’s part of being a student-athlete,” said senior Javi Salas, who graduated with a bachelor’s of business administration. “You have to take care of your student priorities first. That was definitely one of our goals, to be able to walk at graduation.
“After four years of hard work, we wanted the opportunity to walk in front of our families.”
Salas, alongside Sam Abrams, Brad Fieger, John Lawroski, AJ Salcines, Bryan Radziewski and Adam Sargent, all took part in Thursday’s Graduate School Commencement – not the usual undergraduate ceremonies, which began a day later - in order to join the team in North Carolina by Friday’s series opener.
President Donna E. Shalala recognized the small group of student-athletes at the beginning of the ceremony, handed them their diplomas on stage, and wished them well before a 9:50 p.m. flight out of Miami International Airport.
“In a room full of PhD students and graduate school students, to be honored by President Shalala and singled out, she really made us feel special,” Salas said. “It was a dream come true.”
Head coach Jim Morris said it was important his senior class got the chance to spend a special time with their families.
“Those guys have worked hard towards their degrees, and it’s something they’ve been excited about,” Morris said. “I gave each of them the option to walk and fly up later, or to come with us early and everyone said they wanted to walk. The University, starting at the top with President Shalala, makes it special for them.”
Salcines, who graduated with a bachelor’s of science in biology, said the whirlwind of a day – which began with a 9 a.m. wake-up call and ended when the plane landed at 12:15 early Friday morning – was a good indicator of his career as a Hurricane student-athlete.
“It sums up our four years pretty well,” Salcines said with a smile. “We were always on a tight schedule, always busy, and even on Graduation Day, we woke up early for pictures with all the student-athletes…it’s a pretty good summary of our four years. It was a special kind of whirlwind.”
Rewind to one year ago, and Thursday’s “dream come true” might never have been possible for Salas. But after being selected in the 38th round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins, Salas opted to return to school for his senior year.
The Coral Gables native ended up a team captain for the second consecutive spring, threw only the second perfect game in program history in mid-March, and was inducted into Iron Arrow – the highest honor one can attain at the University of Miami – at the end of the academic year.
“Last year I was faced with a decision and yesterday it came full circle,” Salas said. “That was the biggest reason I came back – for that diploma. It’s surreal to think about.”
Salas will chase his dream of playing professional baseball when his college season comes to a close – which he hopes will end in Omaha, Neb., at the College World Series.
Salcines, who will enroll at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine this fall as part of the university’s prestigious oral and maxillofacial surgery program, said Thursday was made even better with the presence of his extended family in the stands of the BankUnited Center.
“Four years of hard work, all the sacrifices we made to accomplish that, and to be able to share it with the people that guided me through the process – through the ups and downs – was special,” he said.
After a quick photo session with family and friends, the Hurricanes said their good-byes at the ballpark and boarded a bus bound for the airport and another grueling ACC weekend against a talented Blue Devils team.
Salas wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We have a responsibility to our baseball team, and we were all just happy we got to take part in the ceremony,” Salas said. “It was a great 24 hours, and we look forward to carrying that momentum into the rest of our season.”