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Better Late than Never
Jack McCallum
May 13, 1996
New Florida grad Emmitt Smith is among a growing number of athletes who have gone back to college to earn their degrees
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May 13, 1996

Better Late Than Never

New Florida grad Emmitt Smith is among a growing number of athletes who have gone back to college to earn their degrees

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Remember when baseball players thought a campus was something where us camped when us went hunting? Even players like Christy Mathewson and Lou Gehrig, who were known for their smarts, did not get their degrees from Bucknell and Columbia, respectively. But now baseball players are going back to school, some to complete their degrees, others to start college because they were drafted right out of high school. Jack McDowell got his degree from Stanford, and Derek Jeter is still taking courses at Michigan.

Look, I don't want to be naive. Hopelessly optimistic and relentlessly uplifting, yes—but not naive. So I will not overstate the academic achievements of our distinguished graduates. One of the courses Mr. Smith took along the way to earning his B.S. in public recreation from Florida's College of Health and Human Performance was called Leisure Services for Older Adults. Shuffle-board, anyone? And I'm sure some of you Florida Gators in attendance recall one tale of Mr. Smith's rematriculation. It seems he was missing from class one day when he was scheduled to give a presentation. When the professor asked where Mr. Smith was, he was given this immortal answer: "Oh, Emmitt's on tour with Hammer." Call it work-study.

But these athletes who return to get their degrees deserve no small measure of praise. They demonstrate that you can't put a price on everything, that some things transcend endorsements and fame. Our jaded world has more reason to listen when an athlete who jawbones about the value of education has something besides a prepared script to back it up. As Mr. Smith said today, "I always felt a little hypocritical talking to kids when I hadn't accomplished my academic goals myself. Now I won't be lying."

Well, thank you for listening. And I've been asked to make one special announcement: After the graduates file out, Florida's director of alumni fund-raising would like to schedule an appointment with Mr. Smith.

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