|In December the Oshkosh men's basketball team organized an impromptu graduation ceremony so former players Andre Wallace and Nick Olson and two other students could receive their diplomas when a snow storm postponed the University's event.
Photo provided by Pat Juckem, UW-Oshkosh
By Erik Buchinger
When snowy weather swept through the state of Wisconsin, former UW Oshkosh basketball players Andre Wallace and Nick Olson thought they would not have the opportunity to walk to the stage and receive their diplomas.
The men’s basketball team was getting ready for a December 16 practice when they heard the news the graduation ceremonies, slated for the following day, were canceled with no plans to reschedule. (The school has since rescheduled to January 21).
“It was obviously disappointing,” UW Oshkosh men’s basketball coach Pat Juckem said. “Especially for Andre.”
During Juckem’s first year as the Titans’ coach, Wallace was a freshman when his father died from throat cancer prior to the start of the season on October 26, 2012. Wallace stayed with his team to practice and did not return until the funeral where he made the promise to his dad he would graduate college.
“Andre and I always talked every anniversary of his father’s passing,” Juckem said. “He would stop by my office, understandably down, and talked about his relationship with his dad and what it meant. He always would say, 'I promised my dad that I would walk across the stage with a diploma.'”
- Video link: Titans open WIAC play at UW-Stevens Point on Wednesday night
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Wallace was leaving work at JC Penney when he received a text from a friend asking if he heard about graduation. He then checked his email and saw it was canceled.
“I was bummed just because being an African American graduating college is breaking a statistic,” Wallace said. “But I kept a promise to my dad, who passed away 4½ years ago, I was bummed that initially I wasn’t going to walk across the stage.”
Wallace is a first-generation college graduate and said his father encouraged him and his brother to go to college.
|UW-Oshkosh graduates Andre Wallace (left) and Nick Olson (right) along with head coach Pat Juckem (center).|
“With him stressing how much me and my brother need to go to college, that’s something I had to promise him,” Wallace said. “He said to stay on straight and narrow and to get my degree.”
Wallace reflected on the days when he needed to talk with Juckem about his father.
“The year it happened, there were a few days I couldn’t mentally handle it, and I’d go into his office,” Wallace said. “I’d be an emotional wreck, and he’d bring me back to reality. Every year that time, I’m always either giving him a call or going to his office to vent a little bit.”
Olson said he found out that graduation would be canceled in his final class as a college student.
“It was a bummer at the time,” Olson said. “It’s what you look forward to over the course of four years. It was something my friends and family were looking forward to.”
As practice was about to begin, assistant coach Matt Lewis told Juckem the team needed to do something for their two former players’ graduation.
“It was disappointing for Andre with what this means to him, so we thought, ‘why don’t we just hold our own graduation for him?’” Juckem said.
Wallace and Olson were texted to meet at Kolf Sports Center where UW Oshkosh plays its home basketball games and is also the venue for graduation ceremonies.
“As we finished practiced, I told our guys we’re going to go over to Kolf, and Andre and Nick are going to meet us there,” Juckem said. “We’re going to give them their own personal graduation ceremony.”
Juckem said the whole team was excited for the impromptu ceremony.
“When we told our guys what we were going to do, the look in their eyes were like, ’This is going to be great,’” Juckem said. “They were so happy to be part of that.”
When the team arrived, Olson and Wallace were there with their caps and gowns, and there were two graduates also dressed up for the occasion.
“As we walked to the front to where the stage is, there were two girls that were up there as well in their gowns,” Juckem said. “I think they too were just disappointed with what happened, and we invited them to join us.”
One of two girls was first-generation college graduate Nyreesha Williams-Torrence along with her roommate Haley Rohe.
“I was really upset about the ceremony being canceled not only because I wasn’t going to get the experience of walking across the stage, but also because my family wouldn’t be able to see me do it,” Williams-Torrence said. “So I’m really grateful to the team and the coaching staff for including me and my roommate in the ceremony they clearly planned for their guys.”
Juckem said the team welcomed in the two graduates to the event.
“We all quickly introduced ourselves,” Juckem said. “This thing wasn’t really planned, and we kind of just rolled with it, and low and behold, we made our little ceremony on the fly for the four of them - our two guys and the two young ladies.”
The graduates strolled to the stage to music, which included Wallace’s dancing that earned him campus-wide fame between classes while he was a student UWO.
Juckem acted as the MC, using a broomstick as a microphone. Each graduate grabbed the “microphone” and addressed the audience, which included basketball players, coaches and family members.
Wallace said he was happy his mother and brother were able to experience that moment with him.
“Just as much as it means to me, I know it means just as much to them,” Wallace said. “When I got my name called, I was going to dance around and cause a scene, but in all seriousness, my mother has put in countless hours of overtime, and my brother has been there for me when I needed something. It meant a lot to them because they had to sacrifice just as much as I did.”
When Juckem announced each person’s name, assistant coach Greg Jahnke presented the graduates with a diploma, and a photo was taken.
The group moved their tassels and threw their caps in the air at the end, followed by a group picture.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, but I know the guys really appreciated it,” Juckem said. “It was really kind of a neat thing.”
“It was really a testament to the program that Juckem built,” Olson said. “He has been bringing in the right guys and right coaches making UWO basketball more of family. Doing something small like this really means a lot, and this was something I will remember the rest of my life.”
Wallace said he was appreciative that the team was able to support him and Olson in their graduation.
“It shows the brotherhood and the family that is set when you’re a part of the team for four years,” Wallace said.
Olson majored in Marketing with an emphasis in Analytics.
Wallace majored in Human Service Leadership, minored in African American studies with an emphasis in Criminal Justice. He is a McNair Scholar, which is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies. McNair Scholars are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential. Wallace plans to go to Milwaukee for his master’s degree in Public Administration and getting a Ph.D in Public Policy.
Juckem said the graduation ceremony was just another experience his players will always remember.
“In our program, we always say it’s about the experiences you get to have,” Juckem said. “And you can chalk this one up to another one of those unique experiences that we shared.”
There was plenty of movement from the Central region since the last poll update.
On the men’s side, UW-Eau Claire jumped up from No. 11 to No. 7, UW-Whitewater rose from 16th to 11th and UW-River Falls moved up five spots from No. 22 to 17 to round out the WIAC teams.
In the CCIW, North Park continued its breakout season with a jump up into the top 10 from No. 13, while Illinois Wesleyan and North Central dropped out of the Top 25.
St. Norbert is the lone representative of the Midwest Conference at No. 7 from No. 12, and Benedictine is the only NACC team to be ranked, though they dropped from 12th to 16th.
Washington U. stayed the same at No. 24.
Washington U. is the top-ranked women’s team in the Central region, as it moved from sixth to fifth.
UW Oshkosh is the top WIAC team in the rankings with a No. 9 status, and UW-Whitewater dropped from 16th to 21st.
Wheaton (Ill.) jumped a spot from No. 24 to No. 23 as the lone representative of the CCIW in the women’s Top 25 rankings.
Check these out
#7 UW-Eau Claire @ #17 UW-River Falls (MBB) – Wednesday, Jan. 4 – The first night of WIAC play brings a big-time game, as two of the top teams in the conference meet in River Falls.
Grinnell @ #12 St. Norbert (MBB) – Friday, Jan. 6 – Grinnell plays just about the most unique style of basketball imaginable. The Pioneers have scored at least 100 points in every game this season, and the lowest point total they have given up is 99. St. Norbert and Grinnell have identical records at 7-2 overall and 4-0 in conference play in what should be a fun matchup.
#11 UW-Whitewater @ #7 UW-Eau Claire (MBB) – Saturday, Jan. 7 – UW-Eau Claire will be fresh off a big conference road game against UW-River Falls to face another ranked WIAC opponent at home. The Blugolds will be tested this week.
UW-Stevens Point @ #13 UW Oshkosh (WBB) – Wednesday, Jan. 4 – UW Oshkosh has won eight of its first nine games, but the Titans should have a big test in their conference opener against UW-Stevens Point. Both teams excel on the defensive side of the ball, so scoring may be an issue for both teams. Oshkosh won last year’s matchup by a score of 38-21.
What’s your story?
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