ST. GEORGE – Nearly 1,700 graduates with associate and baccalaureate degrees walked through the Red “D” Friday during Dixie State University’s 106th commencement. During the program, alumnus and former NBA player and coach Lionel Hollins told graduates to continue to persevere and not to give up as they begin a new phase in life.
“This is not the end of your journey,” Hollins said, “this is the end of one phase of your journey. This will be the beginning. Celebrate today, this is a great accomplishment.”
Hollins, who attended Dixie College from 1971-73, recounted his time as possibly the only African-American attending the college at the time.
“My, how times have changed,” he said, adding he was glad to see the diversity that had come to the campus and the area. “That makes me happy,” he said.
Originally from Las Vegas, Hollins said coming to the school helped mold him into the person he would eventually become. When he first arrived at the then two-year school, he said, he lacked confidence, was insecure, angry, embittered and didn’t know in what direction his life would take.
While at the college, he said he learned to communicate and relate with people who didn’t look like him. He also grew to trust them, he said. As well, there were particular individuals Hollins thanked for helping him accomplish this while he was at Dixie College.
One was Cheri Atkin, a professor of sociology who “was instrumental in nurturing me and giving me my voice so I could utilize my gifts to move to my destiny,” Hollins said.
Another person was former Dixie College basketball coach Douglas Allred, the man Hollins credited with bringing him to the school.
“(He) was my coach. He was my surrogate father. He was my confidant. He was very harsh, but he loved me,” Hollins said. “He was the first person who didn’t look like me, didn’t talk like me, didn’t come from where I cam from, that cared about me.”
During his time as a starting point guard with the Dixie College basketball team, Hollins was named to the All-Conference and All-America teams and went on to play for Arizona State University.
In 1975, he was selected 6th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and went on to earn a spot on the 1976 All-Rookie First team. He would win an NBA championship in 1975 and be named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team
Following a retirement from the NBA, Hollins coached a variety of teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies where he become the winningest coach in franchise history.
“For all those accomplishments, none of that is who I am. That’s what I did,” Hollins said. “What makes me the proudest is to be in a marriage for 36 years. … To be a father of four kids and to have raised them all to adulthood.”
Outside of basketball, Hollins has mentored young men and created the Lionel Hollins Charities to further his passion of giving back, and is an ambassador for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He also speaks to audiences all over the country about leadership, adversity and success, motivating and inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds
“Dixie State University laid my foundation,” Hollins said. “It was my first wilderness I went through,” he said,
He told the graduates they would go through their own wilderness and they they would not give up, but persevere.
Coach Allred, Hollins said, once told him that, “’The great ones don’t quit.’ There’ll be a lot of naysayers. There’ll be people who say you can’t do it that way, or you can’t do it period, and you say to them, ‘I’m stubborn. I believe in myself … I’m going to do it.’”
“Make sure that you, in your idealistic way, understand that when you go out to change the world, you start with yourself first,” he said.
Thora Moore, the baccalaureate valedictorian, addressed her fellow graduates prior to Hollins. She encouraged them to stay connected and to seek real, meaningful connections in life.
“People who do not connect wither,” she said. “Make real connections. Real connections will help you thrive.”
It could be said an example of someone thriving thanks to such connections may be seen in what happened with Hollins during his time at Dixie College.
University President Richard Williams told graduates to continue learning in order to adapt to an ever-changing world so they can continue to succeed.
“I encourage you to continue learning throughout your life,” he said “Always seek new knowledge.”
In all, 863 graduates received that baccalaureate degrees, along with 966 graduates receiving associate degrees.
Following the commencement ceremony Williams said many of the associate degree graduates will continue their educational pursuits at Dixie State thanks to the new programs and degrees the university continues to add.
Seven new degree programs were added over the last year, with another seven – three of which are master’s degree programs – slated for next year.
“It really makes us excited to allow them to stay,” Richards said.
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