Friday, May 27, 2016

Back At The Grad College

Thomas Sanner held the Roper Trophy as the outstanding senior male athlete in the Princeton Class of 2016 and then stepped to the microphone.

This was last night, at the Grad College. It was the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet, the 19th straight year of such an event.

Sanner graduates next week as the third all-time leading scorer in men's soccer at Princeton. On the stage as he accepted his award was his coach Jim Barlow, and he and Sanner share the distinction of being the only two players in program history to have won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards in their careers.

As Sanner began to speak, he told the story of he came to play soccer in the first place. When he was in sixth grade, this other kid in his class destroyed him in football, so he turned to soccer.

And who was the other kid? D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who was in Sanner's class.

Perhaps you know the name. Smith-Rivera? The Georgetown basketball player?

Yes. That's the one.

And there was Smith-Rivera's coach, John Thompson III, in the Grad College audience last night. And so Sanner mentioned the role that Thompson's guy had played in getting him into soccer in the first place.

The von Kienbusch Award went to Cecilia Barowski, who actually was in Florida, winning her 800-meter heat at the NCAA track and field regional at about the same exact moment as her name was being announced as Princeton's top senior female athlete.

The banquet continues to be one of the best events at Princeton. Held the Thursday at the start of Reunions, less than a week before graduation, it is meant to be a party, a celebration of the senior athletes.

For the Class of 2016, there is no shortage of things to celebrate.

Princeton won 14 Ivy League titles this year and 46 total championships in four years. As Ford Family Director of Athletics said as the night's host:

The Class of 2016 has combined for a total of 151 All-Ivy League honors and 14 All-America honors. You are world-class athletes, and you are scholars and committed citizens. Members of the GREAT class of 2016 have won some of the University’s and the nation’s most prestigious awards – we have a Rhodes Scholar, Shapiro prize winners, A SINSI winner and a Pyne Prize winner, 2 Spirit of Princeton Winners, Academic All-Ivy and Academic All america’s, and Ivy Players of the year, to name just a few.

That's a pretty impressive list of accomplishments.

What really stood out to TigerBlog from last night, though, was the contrast in speeches given by Clayton Marsh and John Thompson III, who was there for more than just to be part of Sanner's story. Contrasts that were perfect complements.

Marsh was given the Marvin Bressler Award, which is given to that member of the Princeton family who, through heartfelt support of the University’s student-athletes and coaches, best embodies a belief in the lifelong lessons taught by competition and athletics as a complement to the overall educational mission.

If anybody TigerBlog has ever met can be described as "affable," it's Clayton Marsh. TB can't remember a time he ever talked to Clayton when he wasn't met with a big smile and a sense that Clayton was completely engaged in the current subject, whatever it was.

A 1985 grad, Clayton had worked with Princeton athletes for nearly 15 years, first as University counsel and then as Deputy Dean of the College. His talks at freshman student athlete orientation were legendary, especially when he'd implore the incoming students not to be "sheep" in their educations.

Last night, though, Marsh's talk wasn't about that. Clayton has left Princeton and is heading to Arkansas to begin work on a new educational venture.

As he accepted his award, he talked about when he was a graduate and how he wandered the campus, looking for direction, unable to leave Princeton. And how when he came back, he lived across the street from the Grad College and had his dogs torment the golfers at Springdale.

But his point was a serious one. No matter where you go. No matter what you do. Take a piece of Princeton along. Never let go of the University.

In other words, the things that have changed you during your Princeton experience should continue to help shape and guide you as you move forward. Stay a part of the Princeton campus.

And then it was Thompson's turn. His award was the Class of 1967 Citizen Athlete Award, for outstanding contribution to sport and society.

TigerBlog has met a lot of people in his nearly three decades at Princeton. He hasn't met too many who are more universally liked than John Thompson III.

In some ways, Thompson is wasting his time as a basketball coach, since he is wired perfectly for another profession in the same city in which he currently works - politics. He is smart, he is practical and, perhaps from the same DNA that made him such a great passer as a basketball player, he is always able to see the big picture of every situation.

He can work a room like nobody else TB knows, and last night was no exception. Anyone who wanted to say hello found him the way he always is - easily approachable and happy to share a moment or two, whether it was with an old friend or someone he'd never before met.

John is also fiercely loyal man, and he has always had two homes to which is shows that fierce loyalty - Georgetown and Princeton. And even though he has been at Georgetown for 12 years now, he still very much considers Princeton home.

He talked to the grads about their coaches and the effect that they've had on them during their four years at Princeton. He talked about his own coach, Pete Carril, and how he's still in his head.

But then he spoke more globally. In a fascinating way, one that spoke to the value he places on service and why he was - and his wife Monica, with their work through the John Thompson III Foundation - being honored with such an award in the first place.

He asked everyone to stand, and then he said that the entire group represented the entire population of the world. And then asked people at certain tables to stand, representing percentages of the group at the Grad College and contrasting that with percentages of people in the world.

People who are hungry. People who live their whole lives within 100 miles of where they were born. People without clean water. People who can't read.

And then he asked one person to stand. As coincidence would have it, that one person was Annie Tarakchian, who in addition to being a standout basketball player for four years is probably the Princeton athlete who attended the most events of other teams. It seemed that any event TigerBlog went to, he saw Annie there.

TB isn't sure if Thompson realized who Tarakchian was. Maybe he did. It doesn't matter.

Anyway, he said that she represented the 1/100th of one percent who have the opportunity to attend an elite university like Princeton. And with that comes a responsibility to give back, to help those who fall into the other groups.

It was incredibly effective. And it tied in with what Marsh had said so well. Keep Princeton with you, and part of that is understanding the great opportunity you've had the great fortune to experience. With that, though, comes that responsibility.

When the night was over, it was off to Reunions for the grads-to-be.

The lessons from Marsh and Thompson could wait, TigerBlog supposed.

This was a time to continue the party. The Class of 2016 earned it.

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