Six members of the University of Miami’s best-ever basketball team, a four-time Olympic speed skater, and the first UM student to be awarded the National Institutes of Health/Oxford-Cambridge Scholars program fellowship are among the 3,300 students crossing the stage at the BankUnited Center to receive their degrees at six commencement ceremonies that conclude Saturday.
For the basketball players, the site proved familiar turf.
Here, under UM basketball coach Jim Larrañaga, the Hurricanes began to lay the groundwork that helped them win the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and the ACC Tournament. Additionally, the team earned a No. 2 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA Championship — the best rank in the basketball program’s history.
Larrañaga delivered the commencement speech before 957 College of Arts and Sciences and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science graduates in Friday’s late afternoon ceremony.
“The last time I remember this many students being on the floor of the BankUnited Center, we were celebrating the ACC championships,” Larrañaga said, as grads, moms and dads cheered.
The coach offered motivational advice:
“Find a job you like and put your heart and soul into it,” he said, echoing advise he gleaned from Chinese philosopher Confucius.
“Second, dream and dream big. Set goals that are almost impossible to reach.”
And, “expect the unexpected and don’t fear failure,” Larrañaga said. “Life is not a superhighway where you jump into your Maserati and put the pedal to the metal and sail off into the sunset. No, no, no. The life you’re heading into is a rollercoaster. There are ups, and there are downs, and you have to learn to handle them. You have to believe in yourself.”
Larrañaga spent the week crafting his message, he said in a telephone interview. “Any time I go into a game I want to deliver a certain message, a final thought the team should have before they go into battle. This will be the same. I want to send a message to all of the students and their families. I want that message to be understood and to motivate them.”
Cuban-American Jennifer Rodriguez, 37, who grew up in Miami, won two bronze medals in speed skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. She added a diploma in exercise physiology in ceremonies earlier Friday.
Mexico native Juan Pablo Ruiz, 22, earned his bachelor’s of science in biomedical engineering while double majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. And, in his spare time, he taught salsa dance with the UM SalsaCraze group on campus.
“Writing is my favorite form of expression. ... it’s more a way to stay sane and not go crazy with all the work I have to do,” he said.
Ruiz plans to continue his research studies under a Fulbright Scholarship in Tanzania. The following year, he plans to work with a National Institutes of Health investigator in Maryland and work toward a PhD in biomedical investigation at Cambridge or Oxford.
“My bigger life goals are to discover something about the human race and leave something behind for future generations.”
As for the salsa on the side? “De-stressing,” Ruiz said.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.