Track & Field Seniors Face Graduation Hurdles

BEN SIECK | Sports Editor

The calendar has flipped to April, Butler University’s class of 2014 faces a little more than a month of schooling before graduation commencement. When the new graduates walk to receive their diplomas, it will be the culmination of a lifetime of academic work.

However, the graduating seniors on the Butler track and field team will be competing for their school more than 600 miles away while their classmates are going through commencement.

This year’s ceremony, which will take place in the Butler Bowl, is scheduled for Saturday, May 10. This also happens to be the same weekend as the Big East conference outdoor track and field championships in Villanova, Penn.

Hurdler Matt Schumacker said he originally had mixed feelings about the conflict. But he said his disappointment grew after finding out how many Butler students actually attend commencement.

“It seems to me that at Butler, going to graduation is a pretty big deal, much more so than other schools,” Schumacker said.

This year’s track and field team has 15 senior members. Schumacker said the selection process for the conference meet is performance-based, but he expects all seniors will make the trip to Pennsylvania.

“Every healthy senior went to our indoor championship in February,” Schumacker said. “Now that it’s outdoor season, every senior that’s healthy will be going to conference.”

Middle distance runner Andrew Wallace said he was also dismayed to find he would not be able to attend his commencement.

“You put a lot of work into both academics and athletics, so it’s disappointing to have this conflict, but track has been a big part of my life,” Wallace said. “ I still get my diploma if I don’t go to commencement, but if I don’t go to the track meet I miss out on my last track meet ever.”

Wallace said he and the rest of the seniors found out they would miss commencement while looking through the season schedule at the beginning of the year.

“No one told us we were going to miss graduation. We had to figure that out for ourselves,” Wallace said.

Wallace said the subject has not been addressed to the seniors as a whole.

“Everyone’s kind of avoiding the topic in general,” Wallace said. “No one has really said anything to us, and it’s been discussed amongst the team, but no one has really brought it up with the coaches or staff.”

Schumacker said he was told the athletics department was working on something to honor the seniors’ graduation while they are at the meet, but nothing has been finalized yet.

Coordinator of Academic Support Sonya Hopkins said a spring sport conflicting with graduation is a fairly common occurrence across the NCAA. Hopkins said in this particular instance, the issue lies with the Big East Conference, not Butler.

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Associate Director of Student Affairs Meg Haggerty said the same committee that draws up the academic calendar schedules the date of commencement. She said the academic calendar is made at least one year in advance of the actual school year.

Haggerty said students who miss graduation in May can petition their college’s dean to walk in December the previous or following semester. She said she is not aware of the university communicating to student-athletes about their conflict with commencement.

“I wish we could include as many students as possible,” Haggerty said. “We do the best that we can, but unfortunately conflicts do arise.”

Sprinter Alex Berry said some of his family members had booked flights for commencement before finding out he would be competing at the same time. However, he said they altered their travel plans to watch him run instead.

Kathleen Schumacker, Matt’s mother, said the situation is a catch-22.

“The conference track meet is as much a once-in-a-lifetime experience as graduation will be,” she said. “I just think it’s really unfortunate these two events collided, especially for the families involved.”

Kathleen said Matt’s family will travel out to watch him run and hold their own personal celebration for his graduation. Like Berry’s family, she had to modify travel plans and reservations for that weekend.

Matt said he is still excited for the conference meet and the team shares his enthusiasm, but he also said he wishes he could be two places at once.

“Senior year, we’re at the track championships, so that’s like our graduation from track, which is pretty cool. But we’re missing our graduation from the academic part, which is more important,” he said.

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