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GSU president: All our students share grit, drive of basketball team

In the wake of the extraordinary performance of the Georgia State University basketball team this month, GSU President Mark P. Becker deserves an extended metaphor or two.

By Mark P. Becker

Down 10 points with a little over three minutes to play in their first-round NCAA basketball tournament game against Baylor, the Georgia State Panthers were pretty much done.

At least that is what most people thought. Not me, I knew we were going to win and let others around me know it, too.

I know the entire Georgia State family took great pride in the grit and determination the Panthers showed in that game.

They used those qualities to earn the most dramatic victory in this season’s tournament, and one of the most improbable of all comebacks in the history of the tournament.

The nation saw that, too. But what was unseen, and what I reflected on long after the game was over, was how the Panthers’ perseverance and drive to succeed symbolized the culture and personality of our university. I see that kind of intense commitment, that willingness to confront and overcome obstacles, every day on our campus of 32,000 students.

Georgia State is among the country’s most diverse higher education institutions. It is home to students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, all ages, all walks of life and economic levels. The vast majority of our students receive financial aid. Most of them work to help pay for their education.

A large number of them are first-generation college students. The first in their families to pursue higher education, they do not have the perspective or support that typically comes from other family members’ experienced in attending a college or university.

They are driven, resourceful and ambitious. Just like our basketball team. And, like our basketball team, they have talent to do great things, the one other vitally important and essential quality for success.

On the national stage, our basketball players epitomized the grit that is the foundation on which Georgia State is built. The ambition and fire we saw on the basketball court reflected a university that has propelled itself from a night school a little more than a century ago to one of the nation’s premier urban public research universities.

The most visible demonstration of the growth and development of Georgia State is obvious to anyone walking the streets of downtown Atlanta. We are crucial catalysts to the increased vitality of our city.

Less visible, but even more important, we are transforming the lives of our students every day. Georgia State has had the most dramatic increase in graduation rates in the nation over the last decade because we have been driven to transform how we support students in the pursuit of their educations.

There’s a momentum at Georgia State that is unlike anything I’ve seen in all my years in higher education. We are on a steep upward trajectory in all aspects of the university, from our research portfolio that is growing at twice the national average to year after year records for enrollment.

We are recognized as national leaders in helping students from all walks of life to earn their degrees. Our national profile is growing rapidly. In the last two weeks, millions more across the country learned about Georgia State through the journey of our basketball team.

Perhaps better than any other team in the tournament, our basketball team personified the character of our university. Our players put the international spotlight on Georgia State. The ambition and determination of our students, faculty and staff — the “grit” they display every day — deserves that spotlight.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.