It wasn’t senior Valentina Romero’s intention to miss Furman’s Commencement on May 7, but it couldn’t be helped. She was a thousand miles away in Bryan, Texas, where she was helping the women’s golf team finish fourth in the NCAA Division regionals and advance to the national tournament for the first time since 2008.
But what she missed on Saturday night was restored Monday morning when she took part in a special graduation ceremony in the university’s James B. Duke Library just for her and her family.
Romero not only received her degree and a handshake from President Elizabeth Davis, but she heard her name called by Dean John Beckford in the same, unmistakable manner he did for 598 others a few nights earlier. She was also cheered on by her teammates, coaches and some 30 faculty and staff members who came to see Romero get her degree.
The extra effort by the University was not lost on Romero and her family, who had traveled to Texas for the tournament and then came to campus for her graduation ceremony.
“I told my parents it would be just me, my coaches and teammates at the ceremony, so we were all surprised that so many people were there,” said Romero, a sociology and communication studies major from Cali, Colombia. “It meant a lot to me that President Davis, Athletic Director Mike Buddie and everybody else took time out of their day to come to the ceremony. This is just another example of how strong the Furman community is and how much they care about their graduates.”
According to Brad Barron, Furman’s Associate Dean and Registrar, it was just a few years ago the University began hosting a special ceremony for senior student-athletes who missed graduation because of commitments with their teams. He said this year was the third time Furman had held such a ceremony, but it was the first time there was a standing room-only crowd.
Many of those in attendance were members of the university’s Purple and White Golf League, which is comprised of about 60 members from the faculty and staff. Since Kelley Hester became head coach of the women’s golf team in 2012, the players and coaches have joined league members for one round each spring, allowing the league to get to know the golfers personally. So when an email went out to the league concerning Romero’s special Commencement, a good many of the members showed up to support her.
“I think it shows the kind of impact Val has had on people during her time at Furman,” Hester said. “She’s a very positive person who makes people feel great, and to have that kind of attendance at the ceremony says a lot about the kind of young woman she is. It also says something about the type of school Furman is. I’ve coached at five different schools, and Furman is only place I’ve been that does something like this for their student-athletes.”
Romero not only knew from the beginning of the school year that there was a good chance she would miss Furman’s Commencement, it was the very thing she wanted. Because if she was at Commencement on May 7 it could have only meant one thing: the team had missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
“My Furman team is my family and my number one priority, so I was more than willing to miss graduation,” said Romero, who plans to live and work in the U.S. once her Furman career is over. “Going to the regionals and qualifying for the finals was our main goal.”
The 24-team NCAA Championship will be held May 20-25 at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore.