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UR hosts Arthur Ashe Jr. awards ceremony, Leland Melvin gives keynote address

<p>Leland Melvin, pictured above&nbsp;in his blue NASA uniform, stands with Dr. Ronald and Betty Crutcher, along with representatives from the&nbsp;NCAA and Diverse Magazine.&nbsp;</p>

Leland Melvin, pictured above in his blue NASA uniform, stands with Dr. Ronald and Betty Crutcher, along with representatives from the NCAA and Diverse Magazine. 

University of Richmond welcomed UR alumnus, former NFL player and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin to campus Tuesday. Melvin, RC ‘86, gave the keynote address for the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars Awards luncheon in the Jepson Alumni Center.

The Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars Awards are given yearly to distinguished student athletes in higher education. This year, the event was hosted by the University of Richmond. 

Those recognized at the event hailed from regional universities including Virginia State University, James Madison University, University of Virginia, Hampton University, North Carolina State University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Morgan State University, George Washington University, Georgia Tech, University of Kentucky, University of Illinois and the University of Richmond.

Two of the nominated scholars were selected as Sports Scholar of the Year. The female recipient was softball player Nicole Evans, a senior majoring in kinesiology at the University of Illinois with a 3.8 GPA. The male recipient was soccer player Paul Sime, a senior majoring in political science at the University of Kentucky with a 4.0 GPA.

UR was selected to host the awards ceremony to commemorate the ceremony's 25th anniversary. The ceremony's namesake, Arthur Ashe Jr., was a world-renowned tennis player who was born in Richmond. Ashe was the first African-American man to be ranked as the No. 1 tennis player in the world. He was also an ardent anti-apartheid activist who posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award ceremony was sponsored by Diverse Magazine, NCAA Inclusion and the University of Richmond. 

Molly Field, executive assistant for board operations at UR, was one of the event's organizers.

“The University of Richmond and Diverse have been long-time partners, so when they reached out to us about hosting this year’s special event, we were honored to partner with them,” Field said.

Guests included those being recognized, as well as local high school students, athletic directors, coaches and members of the general public who assisted in organizing the event. One such guest was James Parham III, owner of Paragon Worldwide Resources.

“It was very inspiring to see young men and women getting recognition for having the discipline needed to be a great student and athlete at the same time,” Parham said.

A UR student athlete was recognized at the event. Derek “DJ” Lee, RC ‘18, plays centerfield for the Richmond baseball team. Lee has a 3.59 GPA and is a business administration major with concentrations in finance and entrepreneurship, and a minor in mathematics.

“I was honored to be selected for the award,” Lee said. “After doing some research, I realized how important this was and what it meant for myself and the university, especially since we were hosting the event.”

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Melvin's keynote address was poignant. Dressed in his NASA uniform, he spoke about his childhood and personal connection to Ashe. Melvin grew up just down the street from where Ashe trained. 

He spoke about other influences in his life, his academic and athletic career at Richmond, his subsequent athletic career with the NFL and reaching his final goal: becoming an astronaut and flying to space. 

These accomplishments did not come without hurdles, and Melvin emphasized how hard work and determination kept him from failing.

“Make sure what you do for a living is your calling and your passion,” Melvin said. “Make sure you have what you need in order to get what you need done.”

After the speech, Melvin briefly opened the floor to questions. Those in attendance asked him about what the most difficult part about being in space was, the most difficult part in adjusting back to life on Earth and how long it took to reach space. 

After the awards ceremony, Melvin shook hands and took pictures with guests.

“Despite his very busy schedule, he is extremely generous with his time and we are fortunate that he was able to serve as the keynote speaker for the event,” Field said of Melvin.

Melvin is a current UR Trustee. He will release his first memoir, "Chasing Space," in May.

Contact news writer Julia Raimondi and

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