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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Senior Athlete Banquet

Category: Regional
May, 2019
Hilton Garden Inn
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good afternoon, it is a pleasure to be here to share this celebration of athletics at Rensselaer, and to honor our senior student-athletes.

You, who are our student-athletes, are true champions in every sense of the word. You are standouts in athletic competition, in the classroom, and in the community.

Allow me to share with you just a few examples—from among the many—of how you define what it is to be a true champion.

A true champion never loses sight of her goals. And, in her four years as Women’s Ice Hockey goaltender, Lovisa Selander has demonstrated an almost supernatural ability never to lose sight of—and always to stop!—the puck. In February, Lovisa broke the NCAA Division I career saves record with her 3,810th stop during a game against Harvard University on Alumnae Weekend.

A true champion is also defined by his ability to weather adversity, yet still prevail. In the case of Grant O’Connor of Men’s Cross Country and Track and Field, that adversity was—indeed—the weather. Last May, Grant ran a thrilling 5,000-meter race in grueling 95-degree heat, winning a neck-and-neck battle by three one-hundredths of a second to become the 2018 NCAA Men’s 5000 meter champion.

A true champion sets the bar high, and always reaches for new heights. As one example, Lauren Parker of Women’s Track and Field, earned her first ever All-America Honors this year at the NCAA Division III Indoor Championship, with a high jump that cleared over five and a half feet.

In addition to earning many individual awards, you also have helped to propel your teams to new heights, over the course of your athletic careers at Rensselaer.

In 2018, for the first time ever, our Women’s Swimming relay team and Men’s Tennis qualified for their respective NCAA Championships. The two prior years of competition saw Women’s Soccer earn a spot in the Liberty League Championship game for the first time in the history of the program, and Rensselaer Softball advance to the NCAA Championship regional final, the furthest the team ever has reached in post-season play.

You have given us not only the thrill of these firsts, you have given us the excitement of returning your teams to victory, season after season.

Men’s Track and Field has won the Liberty League Championships each of the last 11 years, including this past weekend! My congratulations to the team. And Men’s Swimming and Diving won a fourth straight Liberty League Championship this year.

We are very proud of the back-to-back NCAA playoff appearances by our Football team in the past two years—and proud of your being named the Eastern College Athletic Conference “Team of the Year” this year, with senior Offensive Lineman Chris Neu elected to national All-America teams this fall.

In your four years at Rensselaer, you have contributed to a total of 21 Liberty League Championships, won by teams from 10 different programs. Seven of those programs went on to participate in NCAA Championships.

The extent of your accomplishments across a wide range of sports exemplifies why we built the East Campus Athletic Village, which opened 10 years ago this coming October, and which included a major upgrade to the Houston Field House. We intended to have first-class facilities across the breadth of our sports, and you have rewarded Rensselaer with your first-class athletic performances.

Your achievements extend beyond the sports arenas—you are academic champions as well. Over the past seven semesters, more than four of every five Rensselaer teams have maintained an overall average GPA of 3.0 or better, a shining example of how deftly you balance the rigors of a Rensselaer education with the intense demands of playing a college sport.

You shine within the community, as well, for the causes you champion, many of them focused on young people and athletics. This spring, our Men’s and Women’s Soccer and Basketball teams again devoted their time and talents to immersing Capital Region high school students in STEM education—by leading sports activities and interactive demonstrations—at the National Biomechanics Day.

And more than 400 of you volunteered to help run all aspects of the Special Olympics of New York Basketball Tournament this year. This represents a 100 percent participation rate for the Rensselaer teams not competing that day—a compelling example of how true champions give their all.

Your community-building initiatives also encompass the community of your fellow student-athletes. Last year, Abbey Salvon, Captain of the Women’s Lacrosse team, led the effort to organize the first-ever Student-Athlete Career Networking Fair, to support our student athletes as they envision their time beyond Rensselaer.

As you prepare for your future—your coaches, professors, Rensselaer administrators, staff, and I, all are preparing to launch you into the next chapter of your lives.  

I am delighted that we have this opportunity to celebrate you today, and to express our gratitude for showing the entire Rensselaer family, what it means to be true champions.

We will not forget your many achievements—and we hope that you return often to inspire us by your future accomplishments—building on all that you have done here.