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Graduation Day 2009It’s that time of year. All across the country,  graduations are taking place.  But when they play “Pomp and Circumstance” and call the roll, there will be a number of no-shows at many of these graduation ceremonies.

Why miss graduation? Well, for student-athletes it can be a busy time of year. Some are participating in post-season play and others are transitioning into their professional careers.

Former Oklahoma women’s basketball stars Courtney and Ashley Paris are two who will not be donning a cap and gown this year. OU’s ceremony is Saturday and the sisters are due to start WNBA training camps on Sunday.

With the camps on the West Coast the two don’t want to travel so soon before practice starts. Courtney was a first-round draft pick of the Sacramento Monarchs and Ashley was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks.

Courtney says she’s not happy about missing the graduation ceremony but the decision is best because of the short amount of time involved.

Other student-athletes are faced with similar dilemmas. Four University of Houston-Victoria softball players are choosing their jerseys over a cap and gown.

Sam Campagna, Lauren Garza, Lindsey Ferguson and Kristen Lindley will graduate on Saturday, but instead of attending their graduation, they’ll be playing in the NAIA National Softball Tournament in Decatur, Ala.

Similarly, there will be four no-shows at Mesa State College’s graduation. Seniors Meagan Hennessy, Jamie Prather, Kristen Silva and Jessica Rayman will be celebrating graduation on the diamond, preparing to play the second game of the NCAA Division II Super Regional 3 tournament, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Duke University’s official graduation ceremony was held last Sunday inside Wallace Wade Stadium, but seniors on the women’s lacrosse team were hosting the opening round of the NCAA Tournament (defeating Virginia 15-13 in overtime).  Luckily, Duke holds a special graduation ceremony for student athletes unable to attend the main graduation.

Former LSU women’s basketball standout Sylvia Fowles will return to campus to graduate this week, according to the Athletics Department. The former Olympic gold medalist, All-American, NCAA Defensive Player of the Year, Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, WNBA first-round draft pick and All-Rookie Team member, EuroLeague Center of the Year, who was two credits shy of graduation when she left school,  said the degree will be a crowning achievement on an already illustrious career.

So which schools do the best job of graduating female athletes? In general, female athletes graduate at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.

With this summer’s graduations of two former basketball players, Georgia coach Andy Landers’ 30-year streak is intact. Fifty-three of his 54 four-year letter winners will have graduated by August; the 54th will wrap up after a one-year internship ends in May 2010.

Lady Hardmon Grooms,  who played at Georgia from 1988-1992, wasn’t exactly on the college graduation fast track. But in August, after this summer’s internship, the former UGA basketball player will finish her long pursuit.

And 12 years after shedding her UGA uniform for those of professional teams around the world, Kedra Holland-Corn will finally get to wear her cap and gown.

Slow and steady, fast and furious, it doesn’t matter. UGA women are unbeaten in their graduation record.

The UConn Husky women’s basketball team also has a pretty good record. Just last month, the National Champions were recognized by the NCAA for top academic performance as a team.  And over the course of 24 seasons, Coach Geno Auriemma’s players have had a 100-percent graduation rate. Renee Montgomery, recently drafted by the Minnesota Lynx,  is among this year’s graduating seniors.  She became the first Husky to have her jersey retired before graduation.

Earlier this month the NCAA released its annual grades known as ”Academic Progress Rates,” a rolling four year measure of Division I athletes’ basic progress toward graduation.

APR scores are calculated by a point system that measures each athlete’s eligibility, retention and graduation in school. For falling below the 925 standard, programs can suffer immediate penalties ranging from loss of scholarships and practice time to a ban on postseason play.

Among the squads with a perfect APR score were Penn State’s women’s field hockey lacrosse, and tennis  teams. Only 7.2 percent of the nation’s 6,323 teams in the survey earned a four-year APR score of 1,000.

Congratulations to the Penn State women’s teams and good luck to all the graduates, even if you go pro in something other than sports!

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