Athletics celebrates largest class of graduating students

FIU sports women's Swimming and Diving graduates

Women’s swimming & diving coaches Rio Ramirez, Randy Horner and Ignacio Gayo with graduates Colleen Quinn, Jenny Lee, Chelsie Kidd and Kelly Grace.

While the U.S. Century Bank Arena was abuzz with commencement activities this week, FIU Stadium did not sit empty. On Monday, April 29, graduating student-athletes and their family and friends gathered in the Stadium Club to celebrate spring and summer graduates. Seventy-six student-athletes will be graduating in the two cycles.

In total, 100 student-athletes have graduated or will graduate in 2012-13, the largest class of graduating athletes ever, according to Assistant Athletic Director Julie Berg. Monday’s luncheon honored the spring graduates with senior rings, and all spring and summer graduates received their Sun Belt Conference medallions, which are worn as part of their graduation regalia.

For some students, graduation opens the door to an uncertain job market, but they are hopeful. Alvaro Castillo, distance runner, hopes to land a finance position with Royal Caribbean or another local corporation to stay close to home. Softball pitcher Jennifer Gniadek plans to return home to Virginia and work for a time before applying to a physician assistant program.

senior medallion

Markeith Russell shows off his Sun Belt Conference medallion.

FIU graduation is a family affair for Alexandra Casales, whose parents both received their graduate degrees from the university. The softball outfielder is graduating this week with a degree in criminal justice and minors in public administration and psychology, and has been accepted to both Barry University and Florida Coastal University for law school.

“I’m from Miami,” says Casales, “Being around my family, being at the school that my parents graduated from, and having them come and watch me play…that’s something I’m going to miss.”

John Caballero got his wish to stay close to home. The pitcher will continue his studies at the University of Miami, beginning their graduate program for physical therapy next month.

“My family is very academic-based, so it’s very important to me,” says Caballero of his studies. He was named to the Sun Belt Conference Academic Honor Roll in 2011-12 for having a 3.0-3.49 GPA, and will graduate with a cumulative 3.63 GPA in liberal studies.

Spirits were high throughout the event. Student-athletes endure a grueling schedule of classes, practices and games, aided by the Student-Athlete Academic Center. That shared experience ties the athletes together, along with their Panther Pride.

The overwhelming emotion was best summarized by Castillo’s mother, Marta Castillo.

“I am so proud of him,” she said.

football graduates with coach ron turner

FIU football head coach Ron Turner with graduates from the football team. From left, Paul Lungren, Josh Brisk, Rupert Bryan, Markeith Russell and Junior Delpe.