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A Special Commencement Address

Posted May 19, 2009

Aaron Curry not only found himself in the NFL Draft this year, but also in Vice President Joe Biden's commencement address at Wake Forest

At one starting point during his commencement address at Wake Forest University on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden singled out Aaron Curry.

Yes, the same Aaron Curry who was a Butkus Award-winning linebacker for the Demon Deacons last season and the Seahawks’ first-round draft choice last month. Curry completed his degree in sociology in December, but decided to “walk” during Monday’s ceremony to appease his mother.

Good thing. Think what he would have missed if he had been on the practice field in Renton for an OTA session rather than in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“And there’s really good reason for my optimism,” Biden said during his speech. “As a student of history, it’s the history behind me and the people in front of me that give me such a degree of optimism … It’s about Aaron Curry, a scrawny freshman linebacker recruited by only two schools, who worked his rear off, became a Top 5 pick, and is walking off this stage into an opposing NFL backfield.

“Aaron, I heard you wanted to go to law school – you were considering going to graduate school. I also heard that your fellow draftees have taken up a collection encouraging you to go. So I’m sure there’s a scholarship there if you want it.”

Heady stuff, even for someone who is not letting all this go to his head.

“It’s been an amazing stretch, because so much has gone in my life and everything just seems to be getting better by the day,” Curry said Tuesday, after rejoining the Seahawks and practicing with his new teammates.

Like getting a shout-out from the V.P.

“I haven’t been able to sit back yet and realize how powerful that was,” Curry said. “I’m just sitting there listening to his speech and then he’s talking about me.

“With everything going on in the world, and he had time to look that u p and mention it in his speech. It was a wow moment. It was powerful.”

But then that’s how life has been the past 5½ months for Curry. Like he said, it’s been one thing after another, with each event seemingly better than the one before:

Dec. 9. Curry wasn’t just given the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college football during an on-campus ceremony, the presentation was made by the player the award is named after – Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus.

“The day I saw Mr. Butkus at the campus was amazing,” Curry said. “It was a day like no other. He seemed so excited to meet me. He was like, ‘I saw this guy on film, and he was making all these great plays, but I wanted to see what kind of person he was.’

“He told me I was just a great person overall. He was glad the committee gave the trophy not just to a great linebacker but to a great person.”

Mid-December. Curry completed his studies and earned his degree, one of the reasons he decided to return for his senior season at Wake Forest.

“I did it for my mom and my family,” he said. “We take pride in graduating.”

Dec. 20. The Demon Deacons defeated Navy in the Eagle Bank Bowl, giving Curry and his 20 senior teammates their 32nd career victory and making them the winningest class in school history.

Late February. Curry not only attends the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, he bucks a growing trend among the elite invitees by actually working out.

Already considered the “safest” pick in this year’s draft class, Curry shows he also is among the most athletic by posting the top marks among the linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds), vertical leap (37 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches).

March 31. Curry becomes engaged to Jamila Abdul-Hakim. While Curry was going to Wake Forest, his fiancée was attending Clemson.

During his introductory news conference after the draft, Abdul-Hakim wondered how they would adjust to life in the city after coming from small college towns. Curry has called an audible.

“We definitely plan on living in the less-city part of this area,” he said. “We’ll end up in Renton, or Newcastle, or somewhere around (the team’s headquarters). Somewhere where it’s not too flashy and it’s more relaxed.”

April 25. Curry is among the small group of players invited by the league to New York City for the NFL Draft. The suspense over which team might select him ends quickly, as the Seahawks make him the fourth pick overall.

Curry’s reaction? He embraced his mother, Chris, and broke down. Later, he also embraced that show of emotion.

When asked two days later during his introductory news conference what he had said to his mother, Curry offered, “Thank you, Mom, for everything that you’ve done for me.”

It’s a two-way street. After that same news conference, Chris Curry was asked about her son.

“The way he acts, that means everything to me,” she said. “It means that all the things I’ve impressed on him, public speaking and doing your homework, have finally paid off. That’s the most important thing.”

May 1. Curry attends the Seahawks’ post-draft minicamp and is inserted into the starting lineup at strong-side linebacker spot that opened when Julian Peterson was traded to the Detroit Lions – the same spot Curry was playing Tuesday.

“I think we found ourselves a player,” veteran linebacker Leroy Hill said. “I’ve heard so much about Curry and all the things he’s done and can do. From the little bit I’ve seen, I think he’s going to fit in well and really be able to help us.”

May 18. While his teammates are going through an OTA session in Renton, the Vice President of the United States is using Curry as an exemplary example.

It almost didn’t happen.

“I wasn’t going to do it. I wanted to be here,” said Curry, whose original idea was to be running with his teammates rather than walking with his classmates. “When the choice is walking across a stage or playing football, my first thing was to go play ball.”

That’s when his mother intervened. Again.

“My mom wanted to see me take part in the ceremony, and mama knows best,” he said. “She said 10 or 15 years from now, I’m going to look back on that day.”

Just another pinch-me day in what has been a whirlwind stretch for Curry.

“I’ve been so busy,” he said, “I haven’t been able to sit back and realize what actually has been going on.”

Game Rewind: Seattle Seahawks