Superstar quarterback Alex Smith to address 2014 grads

Chiefs TeamSmile 2013 Colby Patterson
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith during the TeamSmile event. Photo courtesy of The Kansas City Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith during the TeamSmile event. Photo courtesy of The Kansas City Chiefs.

Alex Smith, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, will speak at this year’s commencement ceremony in May.

Each year, ASUU and the Office of the Board of Trustees — who arrange the ceremony — receive requests for possible graduation speakers throughout the year and keep a record of those nominations. This year, the U is trying to involve students more in the commencement ceremonies. To do so, a group of student leaders put together a list of nominations. The list was approved by President David Pershing, and, in the end, the students choose Smith.

ASUU president Sam Ortiz hopes Smith’s involvement in commencement will get more students excited about graduation.
“Not only was Alex a great athlete, he was also a model student,” Ortiz said.

During his time at the U, Smith led the Utes during their 12-0 season in 2004 and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2005.
As a high school student, Smith stood out for his academic skill and perseverance. At the beginning of his freshman year of high school in California, he was only five feet tall and 130 pounds.

Smith’s high school teammate Reggie Bush was a foot taller and got more attention for his football prowess, but Smith refused to give up his dream of playing football. By the end of high school, he had received two football scholarship offers. Smith declined offers from Ivy League universities to play at the U for the chance to compete in a bowl game.
He continued to push himself mentally, completing his economics degree in just two and a half years. Smith would have finished his master’s degree had he not been drafted by the NFL. He graduated from the U with a 3.74 GPA as a Heismann Trophy finalist and a No. 1 draft pick in the NFL.

While he has not had ample opportunity to use his economics degree on the football field, Smith has used his education and professional success to begin the Alex Smith Foundation. The charity organization focuses on helping foster children attain a college education by providing them with five years of full tuition and housing at San Diego State University. The students also receive guidance from counselors and social workers during their college experience. Since its creation in 2007, the foundation has helped 23 of the 30 recipients graduate.

Peter Bergeson, a senior in biology and creative writing, is “very excited” about graduating this spring. He is about to complete his fifth year at the U.

“I’m finally getting it done,” Bergeson said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here, but I’m ready to move on and try something else.”

Bergeson thinks he will leave Utah for graduate school, and he feels neutral about Smith speaking at commencement.

“I’ve never been much of a football person myself, but it’ll probably get my dad out for graduation,” Bergeson said.
Linda Dunn, director of the Bennion Center, is thrilled about the choice.

“He was an athlete that really promoted education while he was here,” Dunn said. “I immediately sent that [announcement] out to my family who will come because of Alex Smith.”

Patti Ross from the Office of the Board of Trustees said there are many who share Dunn’s enthusiasm. She said since the announcement, numerous people and groups, especially in the Salt Lake Valley, have asked for tickets to commencement.

“Everyone loves Alex!” Ross said.

j.peterson@chronicle.utah.edu