Even though she is a die-hard Red Sox fan, Siena College student Tara Keough is willing to give Derek Jeter props.
The New York Yankees shortstop is being honored by the college at next month’s graduation ceremony with an honorary doctorate of humane letters for his charitable work with Turn 2 Foundation, which he created in 1996 to help youths choose healthy lifestyles and turn away from drugs and alcohol.
Keough, 21, of Syracuse believes that Red Sox Nation will forgive her for supporting Jeter.
“A little tough, but I’m going to let this one slide,” she said.
Jeter won’t be able to attend the graduation ceremony May 13 as the Yankees are playing the Seattle Mariners that day. However, his sister Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation, will accept the honorary degree on his behalf. Jeter’s parents also will attend the ceremony.
Jeter will videotape a message that will be shown to the more than 900 graduates during the ceremony on the video screen at the Times Union Center.
Siena’s president, the Rev. Kevin Mullen, said college officials have been working on this idea for about two years. The process was aided with the help of Siena alumnus Geoff Walker, a personal friend of Jeter’s and a graduate of the class of 1997. The two became close during high school when they were teammates on an AAU basketball team in Kalamazoo, Mich., where Jeter grew up.
Mullen said college officials like the work that Jeter does with the Turn 2 Foundation. The organization takes its name from the expression in baseball when a player successfully makes a double play — or “turns two.” In this case, Mullen said it is about teaching youths to turn away from drugs and alcohol and to more positive lifestyles. Since its founding in 1996, the organization has awarded more than $16 million in grants to help youths in New York City, Tampa, Fla., and western Michigan, according to its website.
Mullen said Jeter is a positive role model because of his charity work.
“He really does put an emphasis on giving back to the community,” Mullen said. “Those are qualities we like to instill in our graduates.”
Director of Athletics John D’Argenio agreed that Jeter’s values and what he’s done with his foundation fit in with the college’s mission. Also, unlike some other sports stars, Jeter maintains a positive image.
“It’s so easy for people to put themselves in bad spots. I don’t think you ever see that or hear that from him,” he said.
The announcement Monday that Jeter will be awarded a degree created a buzz around campus.
“I am over the moon — so excited. He’s my role model,” said Therese Daly, 22, of Clinton. “I’m a huge fan of baseball and a huge fan of the Yankees.”
She said she is impressed by Jeter’s community service. She said it is important to think about those who are less fortunate when going through life.
Staff was excited too.
“Nobody can deny he’s a great leader — regardless of what your sports team may be,” said Linda Richardson, vice president for academic affairs at the college.
The Yankees have won five World Series since Jeter joined the team in 1996. He is a 12-time All-Star, won five Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards. Last year, he became the 23rd player in Major League Baseball to have at least 3,000 hits.
A Yankee fan herself, Richardson is hopeful about the season. Even though the team started 0-3, it has since picked up and Jeter is playing well.
“He’s batting over .300 right now — as long as we beat Boston,” she said.
In addition, Siena College has developed a scholarship program with the Turn 2 Foundation’s “Jeter’s Leaders” program. The program identifies youth who are successful academically and possess leadership qualities and trains them to serve as ambassadors for Derek Jeter in their community. The program works to ensure that the students finish high school and attend college and the students are involved in projects to teach them about themselves and their community. They are expected to serve as role models for younger students.
The college will offer two full scholarships to students who have participated in one of the Turn 2 Foundation’s programs.
College officials will get a chance to present the degree to Jeter in person at his foundation’s dinner later this year. The college believes this is his first honorary degree.
Derek Jeter issued a statement, saying it is a “humbling” experience.
“I am proud to have a great institution, Siena College, recognize me for what I’ve accomplished on and off the field,” he said. “The partnership between Siena and my Turn 2 Foundation is a testament that what I have done off the field to encourage young people to pursue their educational dreams is worthwhile. I will cherish this degree as highly as any honor I have received or will receive over the years.”
Walker, who is now vice president of U.S. Wholesale Sales for Tarina Tarantino Designs in California, said in a statement that he and Jeter were athletes first and students second.
“I remember when Derek was drafted. I had already committed to playing basketball at Siena. I called his house, said congratulations and specifically said, ‘Hey man, hurry up and get to the bigs.’ At 17 years old, I didn’t know he’d get there at such a lightning pace and have such a successful career,” he said.
Whether they root for the Yankees or Red Sox, or are not fans of baseball at all, Siena students will be baseball fans for one day on May 13.
“The entire Class of 2012 will be behind him,” Daly said.