May 6, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Graduation Day can bring on so many potential headache-causing issues.
What to wear, however, is usually not one of them.
Saturday will be no exception for outfielder Morgan Taylor and catcher Courtney Ziese, but there were a few tense moments last week as graduation approached that appeared to force the graduating seniors to take one final test of problem-solving.
The commencement ceremony for Taylor and Ziese, both business administration majors, begins at 3 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion. Georgia Tech softball had a game against North Carolina at Mewborn Field, with first pitch scheduled for 5 p.m.
A conundrum? Sure.
But these are Georgia Tech student-athletes. Finding a way to be in two places at one time — or as close to it as possible — was not going to stop them.
They addressed the situation and found a uniform answer.
“Morgan and I were like, ‘Maybe if we just wear our uniforms under our cap and gown we can just walk across the stage and run over because it’s right across the street,’” said Ziese. “Maybe it would have worked that way.”
“I probably would have had to throw on some heels with my softball pants and softball jersey,” added Taylor, with a laugh. “It may not have been the best-looking but I would have made it work.”
Of course, having found a viable solution — albeit somewhat unorthodox — the situation was worked out for them, as the game’s starting time was pushed back to 6:30 p.m.
“I spoke to [UNC] Head Coach [Donna Papa] and I told her we had a couple of our seniors graduating in the late graduation and would she be willing to accommodate us, moving the game time back to 6:30?’” said Georgia Tech head coach Shelly Hoerner. “She was very accommodating. UNC is graduating this week, too, and they’re missing their graduation completely. So I was very appreciative of her moving our game time and being so accommodating. So now all three of our seniors get to walk, which is just such a neat opportunity for them, plus then they also get to play in the game. I think that’s pretty neat and I’m very, very, very appreciative of Coach Papa.”
So there will be no bolting across the stage and out the door or constantly checking their phones during the commencement address. Instead, they can fully enjoy the ceremony then concentrate on their final regular-season games against the Tar Heels.
“They were going to rush because they wanted to play as well,” said Hoerner. “They were going to be [at Commencement] then they were going to get to the game as soon as they could. But now things have worked out and they’ll be able to be at the full commencement and then be at our game on time.
“They may still wear their uniform. I don’t know,” Hoerner added with a laugh. “But I would assume they would probably wear the dresses that they bought for graduation.”
That peace of mind was as important to their families as both Ziese’s and Taylor’s families will have traveled to Atlanta from out of state — Ziese from Canyon Country, California, Taylor from Jacksonville, Florida.
“I was relieved. I think my parents were more relieved,” said Taylor. “I get to graduate and play the game, too.”
The feeling of relief of having Ziese, the team’s leader in hits, home runs and RBI, and Taylor, whose pinch-single drove in Ziese with the game-tying run as part of a decisive four-run sixth in last Sunday’s dramatic series-winner at NC State, was shared by the duo’s softball family.
“It was hectic for a while but we’re glad the game got pushed back,” said second baseman and fellow senior Maddie Lionberger, a biology major, who also graduates Saturday but in the morning. “I asked [Ziese and Taylor]. They were wondering if they were going to be able to walk at all or play the game.”
The trio plan on recording the day — and their what-might-have-been graduation wear — in pictures.
“I’m sure we’ll get a picture on Saturday or next week some time just to be able to recognize such a stressful moment amidst us all three getting to graduate,” said Taylor.
Taylor and Ziese actually found the entire experience apropos.
“I feel like now, it’s just brought the last four years of being a student-athlete at Georgia Tech full-circle,” said Taylor.
“It’s going to be weird going from walking across the stage and getting that diploma then going out there and playing,” Ziese added. “But I just think that will make it even better.”
It was the best possible ending to a unique situation for Hoerner, now in her 18th year of coaching.
“I would be very accommodating if we were on the road and this happened,” she said. “If people are at home and they have the opportunity to be able to walk and play, why not? They are student-athletes. So if they’re at home and they can do both, let’s make it happen. I know Coach Papa is all about academics as well as North Carolina is. I didn’t really ever think it was going to be a problem. I think it’s a very nice gesture on Coach Papa’s part.”