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Jumping into the job pool is all about overcoming challenges, St. John’s University head basketball Coach Steve Lavin told graduates at the university’s commencement speech Sunday, and tackling adversity is something he knows a thing or two about.
Lavin was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and went under the knife in October before battling his way back to the bench early this year.
As he stood before about 3,000 graduates Sunday, he imparted some life lessons he brought back from his fight with the deadly disease.
“Now I stand here, May 13, cancer-free and able to share some thoughts with you as you move forward on your journey and your path,” Lavin said to cheers from the audience. “But the takeaway is that life is precious. Life is fragile.”
Lavin initially returned to coaching a little more than a month after his surgery, bucking the advice of his doctors.
The stress proved too much, Lavin said in several reports, and he instead took a behind-the-scenes role for a few months. The season was his first year coaching at St. John’s, where the men’s team went to its first NCAA tournament since 2002. Lavin previously coached at UCLA before getting the ax and ending up at ESPN, where he was a broadcaster and commentator.
Lavin’s journey to St. John’s and his eventual acquiescence to his doctors exemplified a central piece of advice he imparted to the students gathered on the lawn: Always be willing to learn.
“Seek out mentors, surround yourself with what I call your own Mr. Miyagis — some wise old owls who blazed a trail with wisdom from a long life,” Lavin said, referring to the martial art master from the “Karate Kid” movies.
Lavin also told the students to develop a resiliency that allows for a quick rebound from unexpected setbacks.
But a group of 20 graduates would not have been sweating in the sun along with the sea of students clad in red and black polyester gowns without already possessing a little bit of resolve.
Members of The Advantage Academy were homeless when they started the St. John’s program, according to program director Kim Toro.
“The program allows individuals who are homeless or formerly homeless to attend St. John’s for free,” she said.
The goal is to keep the students out of shelters, and so far it has been successful, she said.
Last year the first group who graduated from the program all went on to either find jobs or take further schooling, but either way they got the jump-start needed to make a new life for themselves, according to Toro.
Sabrina Garcia plans to go back to school at CUNY now that she earned a business associate degree and was ready to walk across the stage.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be in college at 35 getting my degree.”
Garcia, like most students in the program, was homeless and had a family to take care of before joining the program.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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