George Hill, Cavaliers player, who graduated from Broad Ripple High School and attended IUPUI, graduated from the university on Saturday. Matthew VanTryon/IndyStar
INDIANAPOLIS -- George Hill is used to seeing people arrive early to sporting events and tailgates. But he's never seen people do that before a graduation.
But that's exactly what his family did on Saturday. Hill, who graduated from Broad Ripple High School and attended IUPUI from 2004-2008 before being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, became the first person in his family to graduate. And they wanted to celebrate.
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"They got down here at 8:30 and were tailgating with barbecue (before coming) in here and (to) cheer for me to walk across that stage," he said.
Graduation isn't the only thing on Hill's mind. The Cleveland Cavaliers were set to board a plane to Boston for the start of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday. But his teammates recognized what an opportunity it was for Hill to receive his diploma.
“All of them said how it was a great accomplishment to graduate. They understood. Yes we’re in the Eastern Conference finals right now, but they understood the magnitude of this," he said. "It’s always a big accomplishment to graduate from a university. They let me have this day.”
Hill, whose fiance is also an IUPUI graduate, mentors youth basketball players. He said he has always emphasized the importance of getting an education. Saturday, he turned his words into actions.
“I’m big on education," he said. "I tell my AAU kids all the time how important it is to get good grades, go to college, get your degree to make your life easier. It’s kind of contradictory with me telling them to do those things when I didn’t accomplish them myself.”
IUPUI chancellor Nassar Paydar called Hill a role model for others who want to achieve their dreams.
“George Hill is a role model for many people to follow," Paydar said. "He is a story of commitment and persistence. What he has done has moved me and many others to come back and participate in the ceremony, to be role models, to let people know you can do anything if you put your mind to. Education is so important for prosperity of people and to get skills.”
It wasn't easy for Hill to graduate, especially in the midst of his busy schedule. But he said "nothing was going to stop me."
“It’s not about how long it took me, it’s about finishing the job," he said. "It was definitely hard. There were a lot of papers I had to write toward the end of this year, tests I had to take, trying to find time in between practice and games to get those things done. It was tough, but I was so focused on getting it done because I put it off for so long."
He was a student speaker during the commencement ceremony, and encouraged his fellow graduates to chase their dreams like he chased his.
“Trust your gut. Build your dream team," he said. "Don’t be afraid to take risks. Create a vision for you life. Be a leader in your own life. Give of yourself selflessly to make a positive change in another human being.”