Paying It Forward

Michael Raghunandan with Alex Rodriguez at the University of Miami Watsco Center.

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Michael Raghunandan with Alex Rodriguez at the University of Miami Watsco Center.

Paying It Forward

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
A scholarship created by retired Major League Baseball star Alex Rodriguez and born out of his love for the Boys and Girls Clubs has helped a UM student realize his dream of graduating from college.

Michael Raghunandan was only 8 years old in 2002 when Alex Rodriguez, then an All-Star shortstop with the Texas Rangers, donated $3.9 million to the University of Miami to renovate its baseball stadium and fund an annual UM scholarship, in perpetuity, for a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. 

Today, Raghunandan is a 23-year-old, and the scholarship born out of Rodriguez’s love for and desire to aid youth has helped him realize his dream of graduating from UM. 

Wednesday, a day before he would walk across UM’s Watsco Center stage to receive his degree in exercise physiology, Raghunandan got the chance to meet and thank Rodriguez, now a retired Major League Baseball player who ended his career with the New York Yankees. 

“My mother and father never had very much, and they always sacrificed a lot for my education,” said Raghunandan, noting that his parents worked multiple jobs and hardly ever took vacations. “So this scholarship has meant the world to me.” 

The award, which the UM senior received as a sophomore, has lessened the financial burden of college, allowing him to concentrate solely on his studies. 

During his brief meeting with Raghunandan, held inside the Watsco Center bowl where two commencement ceremonies are set to be held Thursday, Rodriguez, or A-Rod as he is known by many, said Raghunandan’s success is “a dream come true for me as well.” 

“I grew up in this community just like Michael, and I always promised myself that one day I would pay it forward,” said Rodriguez, a UM trustee who has also given generously to the School of Business Administration. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that others have equal opportunities.” 

To date, Rodriguez’s scholarship has funded the attendance of 23 University of Miami students. 

Rodriguez, who will give advice to undergraduates at Thursday’s 10 a.m. commencement exercise, credits the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Hank Kline Club on Southwest 32nd Avenue and 28th Street for helping him succeed in life. He started going to the club when he was 8. 

“If it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Clubs, quite simply I wouldn’t be in the position I am today to give back,” he said. “I came from a single-parent home. My mother had two jobs, so the Hank Kline Club was like a second parent. It allowed me to develop my athletic and academic skills, and it was a bridge between school and home, keeping me out of trouble.”

Wednesday’s meeting was actually Raghunandan’s second time meeting Rodriguez—the first occasion coming in 2015, when the young UM student and other Boys and Girls Clubs scholarship recipients met the 14-time All Star at the on-campus Rathskeller, asking his advice on how to succeed in life.

“I asked A-Rod what his motto in life was,” recalled Raghunandan, who tutors youngsters at the Hank Kline Club, “and he told us to always work to the best of our abilities.”

It turns out Raghunandan and Rodriguez have a lot in common: both attended and graduated from the same PK-12 school: Westminster Christian, and like Rodriguez, who starred in football and baseball at Westminster, Raghunandan was also a two-sport athlete at the school, competing on the swimming and cross country teams.

Now, Raghunandan is set to enter the next phase of his life. “I’ve come a long way,” he said.

The undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies can be viewed live online by visiting UM’s Commencement coverage at miami.edu on Thursday, December 14, and clicking on the Livestream link.