For most college basketball players, graduating in the middle of the season during December commencement with a pair of teammates would qualify as one of the most unique and unusual events of their careers. But for Charles Jenkins, Nathaniel Lester and Greg Washington, it was downright normal compared to some of the other things that have happened to them during the past four or five years.
“We’ve been through everything together,” Jenkins said with a small grin and a knowing sideways glance Saturday night, shortly after the Flying Dutchmen beat Manhattan 71-58 and 15 or so hours before he, Lester and Washington received their degrees during the ceremony at Hofstra Arena. “[It’s good] for us to add another good day to all the good times that we’ve already had.
“I told Greg this morning ‘If I was by myself and I graduated by myself, then I’d be a little nervous.’ But I’ve got my guys with me, I know we’re all graduating together, so it’s going to be easy.”
The December graduation was made possible by the year-round schedules all three players maintained at Hofstra. Jenkins, Lester and Washington all preferred to stay on campus during the summer and workout, but in order to do that, athletes must take a class.
Lester, who enrolled at Hofstra in the fall of 2007 while Jenkins and Washington redshirted as true freshmen in 2006-07, ended up graduating a semester early. “I didn’t actually plan this,” Lester said. “[He said] I may as well stay here and work out and get better and take classes. And in the end, all the classes added up and allowed me to graduate early.”
Graduation day was a meaningful one for the three players and one that elicited a range of emotions, some of which were surprising departures from their on-court demeanors. Lester was his usual low-key self about the idea of walking on the stage in front of thousands of unfamiliar faces.
“Nah, I’m never nervous, man,” Lester said with a smile. “I live for the moment.”
Washington, another player who exhibits a poker face during games, was nervous about graduation entering Saturday’s game and expected goose bumps and maybe even a tear or two on Sunday.
“We took advantage of what we have—the opportunity to get an education and still be able to play ball,” Washington said. “That’s one of the many things we’re happy for. And tonight is one of my graduation presents, so it felt good.
“It’s great, it’s great. You feel emotional. Me and Charles were talking about it before, on the bus. We wanted to make sure that we got this win today.”
Jenkins, meanwhile, once again displayed a perspective beyond his years by viewing graduation with equal parts relief and reflection.
“It’s been kind of bittersweet,” Jenkins said. “A relief that I’m out, that I’m not going to be doing papers. But at the same time, down the line, I’m going to miss this. I’m going to miss the fun times at Hofstra. So it was a little bit of a relief and a little bit emotional at the same time.
“But every time I say something about it, [Lester and Washington] tell me ‘Shut up, we don’t want to hear that.’”
The three players will enroll in graduate school and take at least three classes in the spring semester. Lester, who could end up spending the next year-and-a-half on campus if he redshirts due to the quad injury that has kept him out of action this season, will be pursuing his masters in physical education while Jenkins and Washington aren’t sure yet what courses they’ll study.
Those decisions are for another day. For the three players—already as tight as any group of Flying Dutchmen seniors in memory—Saturday and Sunday were about enjoying the moment with each other and taking—wait for it!—pride in their accomplishment, as evidenced by their ear-to-ear smiles in this photo gallery at the official Hofstra website.
“It’s just a good accomplishment to graduate together,” Lester said.
“I consider the two of them family,” Washington said. “Their families have welcomed me with open arms and my family has done the same. We love each other, we treat each other with the utmost respect. Our friendship can take [them] so far. We thank each other for it.”
Jenkins said the three players would probably have a rare dinner without one another so that they could enjoy the day and night with their families—but that a reunion for the new graduates wouldn’t be too far off.
“We’ll just go out and have separate dinners,” Jenkins said. “But we’re always together. We’re a family. So we have more dinners ahead.”