As Hammed Suleman approached the podium at the annual Academic Honors Luncheon on Monday, the five-year track and field athlete was beaming.
Suleman had just received the Joseph M. Kavanagh Award for the most academically improved student-athlete — an honor he would have never anticipated half a decade earlier. Staying on track to graduate with hopes of attending graduate school, he had learned to thrive in the academically competitive environment Cal provides.
At the annual Academic Honors Luncheon on Monday, more than 40 student-athletes such as Suleman were recognized at Haas Pavilion for their demonstrated commitment to academic achievement and leadership, among other accomplishments.
Organized by the Athletic Study Center, the luncheon featured the presentation of academic honors to student-athletes representing a wide variety of Cal’s Division I sports teams. One designation — the Golden Bear Achievement Award — recognized the individual with the highest GPA from every sport.
“I feel incredibly honored to be recognized on so many different levels — whether it’s athletics or academics and leadership,” said Alicia Asturias, who received the Golden Bear Achievement Award in women’s gymnastics. “I think this award is really the culmination of all those things and all the things we strive for when we come here.”
But the diverse array of sports represented Monday extended beyond just the Golden Bear Achievement Award. The event included 10 other award categories, ranging from the Neufeld Scholar-Athlete Award to the Walter A. Haas Jr. Community Service Award. In those 10 other award categories, 17 athletes and one team from 12 different sports were represented.
Despite their struggles in academia over the past few years, there were four athletes from the Cal football team honored at the event.
Football player Matthew Anderson received the Golden Bear Achievement Award with a team-leading GPA of 3.7, and senior Mitchel Bartolo was the recipient of one of three Oscar Geballe Postgraduate Scholarships. Senior Mark Brazinski received a similar recognition with the Pac-12 Postgraduate Scholarship.
Meanwhile, James Grisom earned the Jonathan and Judy Hoff Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award — an honor specifically geared toward commending academic achievement by members of the football team. Grisom’s recognition follows his involvement in a variety of intellectual pursuits on campus, including his founding of the informal group Knowledge Seekers. The group meets Saturdays to discuss diverse perspectives on various issues.
That type of extracurricular endeavor falls in line with the remarks of Suleman, who served as the event’s student speaker. Now preparing to pursue graduate work in education, he addressed the high academic standards that UC Berkeley places on its student-athletes and how they push students to develop personally and intellectually.
“You build a tolerance to the amount of work, to the environment, to just what Berkeley puts you through — and it shapes an incredible person,” Suleman said.
“I feel like I can use my five years here and help people, so they don’t have to run into the same roadblocks I did and just encourage them in some other way.”
Dani Jo Coony covers softball. Contact her at [email protected].