Basketball All-Star Erin Laney to Deliver Senior Speech

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Baseball research

Erin Laney is no stranger to standing alone in a pressure-packed situation.

Whether as a member of the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team or during her time as a student-teacher, she knows what it’s like to have all eyes on her. While those experiences are great preparation, she’s never had to stare into a spotlight like this.

Erin Laney
Laney is the second Mule athlete to deliver the senior address at Commencement in the last four years. Soccer player Mike Williams spoke for the Class of 2011.
Laney was selected as the senior speaker and will deliver the address for the Class of 2014 at Muhlenberg’s 166th Commencement on Sunday.

“Never,” Laney said when asked if she had any previous experience in public speaking. “This is a great place to start.”

Like many other things in the self-admitted procrastinator’s life, the idea to put her hat in the ring didn’t hatch until late in the process. Probably unlike most of her competition, Laney’s decision came spur of the moment.

“Right when second semester started and I was reflecting on my teaching experiences and how I was back to being a student again, I thought about it from a different perspective,” Laney said. “I think because of that I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to write a Commencement speech. It was a random thought, but it comes from seeing learning from a different perspective and getting insight into that.”

The first step was writing her speech, which applicants needed to submit by February 26.

“Obviously I got it done right at the deadline, because that’s how I do things,” Laney said.

Then came the announcement of three finalists. After that, students had a 48-hour window to vote for their favorite. A well-liked athlete with a wide-ranging friend group, Laney knew she had a chance to win the popular vote – as long as she did most of the work for her constituents.

Erin Laney
Laney earned All-Centennial Conference honorable mention as a senior after averaging 9.5 points and 6.0 rebounds (both second on the Mules). She finished her career with 669 points and 472 rebounds.
“Being friends with all the athletes, I have a lot of friends at the school, and they’re generally not the kind who will go way out of their way to spread the word,” Laney said. “So, I went through my phone and texted every single person I felt comfortable texting to vote for me. And I did it with the link too – if I just told them to vote for me, no one would try to find out how.”

Her good reputation came in handy, too.

“I had heard that even people who didn’t know me well but had heard of me were voting for me because they knew me by association,” Laney said.

On the first Monday in April, an e-mail notification with the good news pinged on her cell phone.

“I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet, but I read it and was like, whoa, that’s my name!” Laney recalled. “I read it again and couldn’t believe I won. Then I remembered I had roommates and could go celebrate, so I ran out of my room and was jumping around.”

One might think the next month and a half would feature little more than practice, practice, practice. Not exactly.

“My mom has been trying to get me to practice every day,” Laney said, “but it’s Senior Week. I just want to have fun with my friends.”

That’s not to say she isn’t ready for Sunday’s ceremony. Laney just prefers not to overwhelm herself thinking about the magnitude of the moment.

“I’m trying not to overanalyze it, but as soon as I was reminded that I’ll be going up in front of 6,000 people and will probably forget a little bit, it’s hard not to think about,” Laney admitted. “I’m trying hard not to. But if I can go an entire day in front of seventh-graders and be fine, I think I can handle 6,000 people looking at me and not being able to talk back.”

Erin Laney
Laney's classroom experience at Muhlenberg included a day at Jefferson Elementary School each January with fellow Mule basketball players as part of the "Drean to Read" program.
A member of the prestigious RJ Fellows program and a certified peer tutor, Laney certainly fits the ideal of a senior speaker. She made the Dean’s List every semester at Muhlenberg and will graduate Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. She was named to the Centennial Conference Academic Honor Roll each of the last three years.

Over the course of her four years at Muhlenberg, community service in the City of Allentown has been important to Laney. She participated in the Healthy Youth Peer Education Program (HYPE), discussing issues of racism and prejudice with high-school students. This past year, she participated in the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding’s Youth & Prejudice: Reducing Hatred Conference, engaging middle-school students in small group discussions on the language of tolerance. Laney also volunteered with Casa Guadalupe, working in conjunction with a Muhlenberg education professor in the instruction of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education to low-income middle-school students at an afterschool program.

In addition to her extensive classroom experience, one of Laney’s biggest on-court moments should prepare her well for what’s sure to be a nervous Commencement morning.

Just three and a half months ago, Laney was at the free-throw line in a tie game at home against McDaniel. There were only 0.8 seconds left on the clock, but the wait must have felt like an eternity – and, like Sunday figures to be, the audience was almost entirely silent. She missed the first freebie, but the second was true, giving the Mules a stirring victory. So which moment does she expect to produce more nerves?

“Honestly, I think the game,” Laney said. “With this speech, I’m just up there reading a finalized piece of paper. Unless my voice cracks or I sneeze, that’s pretty much all that can happen. In the game, there are so many things that can happen. Making that free throw requires so many moving parts, and of course I bricked the first one. The undetermined aspect of a shot like that made the pressure that much greater.”

As for the speech, Laney says she plans to draw on personal experience to deliver a wider message to her fellow students.

“I guess the gist of it is this,” Laney said. “When someone tells you no ... you’re not good enough, you’re not what we’re looking for ... how are you going to react to that face value judgment? People don’t know your potential, what you’re capable of or how hard you’re going to work. It’s kind of a compliment to Muhlenberg in a way, because this is a personal victory for me.

“I’ve been told I can’t do basketball and student-teach. I’ve been told I couldn’t study Spanish and my other major on top of teaching. I’ve been told I couldn’t study abroad. Basically my career and where I’m ending up has been shaped around being told no so many times. I did all of those things. In a way, Muhlenberg has made me into a more determined person. What is no? For me, it means nothing.”

Like any good speaker, Laney doesn’t just talk the talk. She proved the truth of her message just two days ago, when she heard a resounding “yes” from a local school, offering her a position as its newest Spanish teacher.

“I’m so excited,” Laney said.

What a week this is turning out to be.