For all undergraduates, the moment of walking across the stage, white spotlight hard in their eyes, dazedly shaking a proffered hand, a sea of applause swelling in the background and one sweaty palm at long last clenching their undergraduate diploma, their bachelor’s degree – this is a moment marking the culmination of an unbelievable four years of blood, sweat and tears. It’s a moment of realizing that, yes, they have made it – countless sleepless nights, underwashed rooms and overcooked foods, 8 a.m. lectures and 11 p.m. midterms – every setback and every hardship – they have all led to this final achievement of deserving academic success.
For student-athletes, however, this bittersweet moment is also marked by another very profound and unique experience that few other regular undergraduates are privileged enough to know. It is the experience of representing their home school, not only academically, but athletically as well. It’s hours upon hours of unwavering commitment and devotion that demand vast strengths of body and mind.
Saying that the student athlete’s time in college is different from that of the regular student’s may possibly be the understatement of the year.
Daisha Oruru, a Tiger Gem dancer at Tennessee State University, described a typical day for her as starting at 6 in the morning with workouts with her teammates, followed by a grueling litany of classes, study hall, running, dance practice and more studying in the library. Furthermore, Oruru is currently averaging a rigorous 14 hours of workouts each week, as well as performances at 30 basketball games every semester, all on top of 16 credit hours of classes.
This is in stark contrast to the regular student’s day, which typically starts off with breakfast between 9 and 10 a.m., with their first lectures scheduled as late as 1 p.m. and a couple hours of club commitments scattered intermittently throughout the week. Despite this relatively lax schedule, however, many still find themselves pressed for time, just barely skidding into the last remaining seat as the lecture begins. Or, let’s be honest – sometimes as the lecture is halfway through.
On the other hand, as Sydney Story at the University of Miami describes in her Odyssey post, student-athletes just can’t afford to be late to classes.
“When the average student shows up to class 45 minutes late, it often infuriates the student athlete that has been up since the crack of dawn and must be on time to class never knowing if there is a class checker there making sure you’re on time,” she wrote.
Contrary to Hollywood’s popular portrayal of the “dumb jock,” student-athletes are, in fact, required to maintain a certain GPA and attend mandatory study hall periods in order to be eligible to perform or compete.
“At my university, student-athletes are held at a higher standard than anyone else on campus. I think that goes for almost every school,” Oruru said. “And as part of the spirit department at my university along with the cheerleaders, [the dancers] are under the athletic department and treated no differently from the football, basketball and volleyball players.”
Clearly, slacking off academically is just not an option.
“We must schedule our classes around our practices to make sure that we can give 100 percent in the classroom and at practice,” Story continues. “I mean, let’s face it, bad grades means we can’t compete.”
So how do student-athletes do it? How do they manage to juggle lectures and labs and training and practices? How do they successfully balance their academic workload and their athletic performance?
For Oruru, it all comes down to passion, experience and motivation.
“I have been dancing for about 14 years,” she explained. “Since I have been a student-athlete my whole life, I’ve gotten pretty well at balancing myself. I am very organized and keep a planner with my assignments and practices and everything else. And that has helped my time management and everything else. I also think having friends who are student-athletes help[s] me stay focused.”
Learning to manage such a rigorous and demanding schedule is not the only challenge that a student-athlete faces, however. They must also become accustomed to sacrificing those Thursday night frat parties and Monday movie marathons – as well as other potentially dubious activities that the school administration may frown upon.
“You can’t do what everyone else is doing because we are the face of the school and have consequences,” Oruru said.
“We overhear the plans of what frat/sorority socials and parties are being held on weeknights and know that if we even want to survive the next morning there is no way we can go out,” Story wrote. “Like I said, collegiate athletics takes full dedication.”
And so it does. But despite all these difficulties, there are various perks to being a collegiate athlete, and the overarching experience is definitely a fulfilling and enriching one that many would not ever trade away.
When asked what some of the most rewarding aspects of being a student-athlete were, Oruru responded, "Being in the school parades, meeting celebrities, forming a family bond with my team, networking and getting to do what I love.”
Because in the end, how many college students can claim that they had successfully gone through school pursuing not just one, but two distinct passions? How many college students can proudly say that they have made their school proud by giving it their all – academically and athletically?
Each and every student-athlete can.
As Oruru adeptly said, “You definitely don’t get the same experience that everyone else has in college – but that’s also the best part of it.”
Lead Image Credit: Unsplash