As a new academic year begins, optimism is high on campuses across the SEC. With the dawn of a new year, successes and failures of the past are set aside as our students, coaches and administrators look forward to the challenges of a new season.
Likewise, I have great hopes as I begin my first year as commissioner of the SEC. We have a rich tradition that has been produced by the 82 years of history in the Southeastern Conference, yet I am optimistic that our best days lie ahead.
As I prepared for the interview process that eventually led to my appointment as the SEC's eighth commissioner, three words came in to focus as I assessed the strengths of this league: Scholars, Champions and Leaders.
The real strength of the SEC is in the young people who populate the rosters of our sports teams. Those three words - Scholars, Champions and Leaders - describe their goals, their aspirations and their abilities, on and off the field, as well as our responsibility to provide the opportunity for each of them to realize the fulfillment of their college experience.
"Scholars" may not be a term typically associated with college athletes, but to me it reinforces why these young people are on our campuses and asserts our responsibility to educate them and prepare them for their future. It is our goal to graduate every student-athlete who participates in the SEC. A lofty goal, for sure, but it is a goal that sets an expectation for all of us who touch their lives.
As our graduation rates increase, typically aligned with the four-year college experience, it is important to realize that graduation is not always achieved within four years of college enrollment. This is true of both the general student population and for those participating as student-athletes. Today, graduation may be achieved within three years and a young person may also complete a graduate degree during their time of collegiate athletics eligibility. We also know that some young people may need to more time to achieve graduation, for some it may literally take decades. But, as educators, we know the importance of forming a lifelong link between a university and an individual, and supporting the education of young people, no matter how long it takes.
"Champions" represents the ambition of winning every championship. This is a lofty goal as well and, considering the razor-thin margin between success and failure, a seemingly impossible achievement. But it is the reality of our aspirations and the expectations of our fans. There is no great achievement that was ever produced by an attempt to be average and we seek to be great.
"Leaders" is a description of the character of our students, the acceptance of their responsibility as role models for our youth, as servant leaders in their communities and their ability to make a difference in the world, now and in the years that follow their college experience.
I invite you to visit www.SECsports.com/stories to see the best in what our students accomplish away from the fields of competition. You will find stories like Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell who inspires children to read by sharing his own story of early problems with reading comprehension. Malcolm even recently published his own book.
You will find the story of Vanderbilt athletes who traveled to Cuba for a historic international service trip and Kentucky football players who participated in a leadership program in the Czech Republic. You will learn about Auburn's Kris Frost who is majoring in Aviation Management and Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs who, while majoring in Aerospace Engineering, also helped the Tennessee football team build its fifth home in the last five years through Habitat for Humanity.
There are other stories of our student-athletes -- many of them, in fact -- of academic achievement, personal ambition, community service, determination in the face of adversity and character of mind. These student-athletes are the chapters of a larger book that is the story of the Southeastern Conference.
While we tell the stories, the stories are lived by our students. And it is our responsibility to give them the opportunity to reach their full potential. In the SEC, educating scholars and supporting champions provides us the platform from which we can develop leaders, literally, to influence the world.