As hundreds of graduates walked the stage to receive their diploma May 14 in Flowers Hall, senior third baseman Harlie Barkley was preparing for the Division II Softball Championship in Denver.
As of May 21, Barkley can officially call herself a graduate of UNA. University President Kenneth Kitts flew into Denver to present Barkley her degree and the UNA athletics department helped set up a small ceremony for Barkley.
Barkley’s softball teammates and coaches, UNA athletic staff members and Barkley’s parents were in attendance, among others, for the ceremony. The athletic staff and Kitts kept the event a secret, as they surprised Barkley just moments before her arrival with a cap and gown.
“I wasn’t expecting any of this,” Barkley said. “It makes me feel really special. I really don’t have any words for it. It’s pretty awesome.”
Barkley fits the mold of the athletics department motto “graduating champions,” said UNA athletics director Mark Linder.
“Harlie is a champion that today got to go through graduation,” Linder said. “She’s a sweet kid that comes from a great family, a local family. It’s because of people like Harlie that come and commit themselves academically and athletically that makes UNA such a great place to work and to be.”
Barkley, who majored in biology, graduates from UNA with summa cum laude honors. She plans to continue her studies as a graduate student at Mississippi State and pursue a career as a veterinarian.
Kitts said this was his first time traveling to present a diploma to one individual.
“It’s amazing the school did this for her,” said Tim Barkley, Harlie’s father. “It was very special for (Kitts and the athletics department) to do this for one kid. I’m very proud. Of course, she gets a lot of (her intelligence) from her mother.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Barkley quickly turned her attention back to softball, as her and the Lions are in the championship finals against Humboldt State. UNA must win two games to become the national champion.
“This is my last day, win or lose,” Harlie said. “I’m going to give it absolutely everything I have and leave it all out on the field. This is by far the best team I’ve played with. We’re just a family, and we have fun no matter what.”
The second game of the championship series starts at 1 p.m. If UNA wins, the final and deciding game will take place around 3:30 p.m.