As Nigel Hayes approaches his final few days before graduation this weekend, he has a lot of things on his mind.
The four-year Wisconsin men’s basketball player took to The Players’ Tribune this morning to muse on what his time at UW-Madison was like as a student and athlete — offering his own words of reflection and encouragement to his fellow students.
Hayes’ college journey began when he moved from Toledo, Ohio, as a shy freshman in 2013 and promptly became a key role player on a stunning run to back-to-back Final Fours in 2014 and 2015.
“I remember one day my freshman year, in Micro Econ 101, when the professor singled me out to congratulate me because our team was going to to Final Four,” Hayes wrote. “Everyone stood up and applauded because I was the only representative of the basketball team in the class. I was sitting in the back row practically trying to crawl under my desk to avoid the attention.”
Since his first year in Madison, Hayes has come out of his shell to advocate for change on Wisconsin’s campus and beyond — becoming one of UW’s most memorable student-athletes along the way.
He is part of a lawsuit against the NCAA calling for student-athletes to be paid for their work. He also spoke out on Twitter to make points about race relations in the U.S. and athletes using their voices to speak out on all sorts of topics — not just sports.
Now Hayes will move on to the NBA next month, with hopes of getting drafted and continuing his basketball career just a little bit longer.
But before he does that, he issued a challenge — full of classic Nigel Hayes wit and charm — to his fellow graduates in the class of 2017:
Never accept it when someone says, “Just shut up and play.” Or whatever the equivalent is in your field.
Don’t accept it when they say, “Stay in your lane.”
Let’s use all possible lanes. Let’s create new lanes. Each of us is more than just the job we do for a few hours a day.
Whether we play basketball or not.
“The paradox of education is precisely this,” James Baldwin wrote, “that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
Thank you, Wisconsin, for helping me learn that. (There, I just quoted a famous writer like you’re supposed to do in a graduation speech.)
And thank you to all my classmates, teammates, coaches, professors and friends for being part of a community that I will always be grateful for. If you care about something, you want to make it better. I hope that in some small way I challenged Wisconsin to be better. I know it made me a better student, athlete and person.”
Hayes will graduate this Saturday, May 13 with a degree in finance.