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By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)
VirginiaSports.com
 
CHARLOTTESVILLE – The more she learned about the espnW-sponsored “Campus Conversation” to be held at the University of Virginia, the more enthusiastic Kaili Torres grew about taking part in the event.
 
“I was like, ‘Wow, I wish I would have had that when I was a student,’ ” said Torres, who graduated from UVA in 2015 with a bachelor’s in media studies.
 
Torres also played soccer at Virginia, and she said her transition to the working world, as well as that of her classmates on the team, wasn’t easy.
 
“But we never really talked about it with each other or anyone else,” Torres said. “It’s kind of something we went through alone, and it’s not till after the fact that we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that was really hard, and you had that experience as well.’ “
 
Virginia’s director of athletics, Carla Williams, had a similar experience as a basketball player at the University of Georgia. And that’s why she was eager for UVA to host a “Campus Conversation,” as schools such as Duke, North Carolina, Michigan, Yale, UCLA and Stanford have.
 
“I did not have this as a student-athlete,” Williams said. “I didn’t have this until I became an administrator and started putting these events on for student-athletes.”
 
Founded in 2010, espnW has multiple platforms, including espnW.com, that focus on women’s sports and issues that affect women in athletics. UVA is the 29th school to host one of these espnW events for its women’s student-athletes, some 320 of whom gathered in a practice gym at JPJ on Monday night.
 
Before splitting up for breakout sessions, the women heard from a panel that consisted of four former UVA student-athletes – Torres, Kim Hatchett (track & field), Michelle Cusimano Vachris (lacrosse and field hockey) and Lauren Morrissey (lacrosse) – as well as moderator Carol Stiff, an espnW vice president who played basketball and field hockey at Southern Connecticut State.
 
“I thought it was amazing,” said Moné Jones, who played basketball at UVA and will graduate from UVA next month with a bachelor’s in drama. “There were a lot of people with a lot of experience who come from the same background that we do.”
 
Jones, who’s applying to graduate programs in mass communications and journalism, said it “was super important to see other women doing things that we want to do in life, and doing well in those positions.”
 
Torres is now a second-year student in the master’s program at NYU’s prestigious film school. 
 
Hatchett, who graduated from UVA in 1984 with a bachelor’s in rhetoric and communication studies, went on to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School. She’s now an executive director and private wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley on Wall Street.
 
Vachris, who earned a bachelor’s in psychology from UVA in 1996, later went to law school, and she’s assistant general counsel for CBS.
 
Morrissey graduated from UVA in 2002 with a bachelor’s in religious studies. She’s a vice president for affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN.
 
None of them, as an undergraduate at UVA, necessarily expected to end up in her current field. But that’s not unusual, Virginia’s student-athletes were reminded Monday night.
 
“Note to everyone: It’s OK if you don’t know what you’re going to do when you graduate,” Stiff said.
 
Among the points Hatchett made during her remarks: “You can change your mind as many times as you want. Your major is not what’s going to define you. You can change it. You can be whatever you want to be.”
 
After graduating from UVA, Hatchett took an entry-level job at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City. There, she said, “I looked around and noticed that everyone was working on Wall Street.”
 
She realized that that career path appealed to her, and so Hatchett went back to school, taking night classes at Pace University.
 
“I took all the classes that I was afraid I would fail at UVA,” Hatchett said, smiling.
 
She excelled at Pace, after which she applied to – and was accepted at – Harvard Business School, from which she graduated in 1991. For a woman who, when she enrolled at UVA, wanted to become a physical therapist, it’s been a memorable journey.
 
“So that’s why I say you can change your mind as many times as you want,” Hatchett said.
 
The panelists addressed several topics, including the challenges of working in professions dominated by men, the ways in which their backgrounds in sports have helped them professionally, and the difficulty of moving on from the regimented life of a college athlete.
 
“That was really hard for me,” Torres said. “I just wanted something to look forward to like I did when I played a sport.”
 
Vachris said: “I missed it. I really did. For the first time in many, many years, I had no team, I had no coach.”
 
Eventually, she took up running. “That was my little competitive outlet.”
 
After a student-athlete graduates from college – unless she embarks on a professional career – there is a “level of responsibility and level of stress that hits you,” Hatchett said. “Then on top of that, you’re not playing athletics anymore, and that is a double whammy. It’s a difficult transition for everyone.”
 
Torres, who’s from Jacksonville, Fla., could have pursued a pro soccer career, “but I was kind of ready for a new dream,” she said. “I was ready to do something different.”
 
Exactly what that would be, though, she wasn’t sure. “I went home for about two months and tried to figure out: What do I even like? What am I even good at? Am I good at anything else but soccer?” Torres said.
 
She had a passion for film, and eventually she moved to New York and found work on a documentary about Muslim-Americans living in New York City. Then Torres moved to Nashville, Tenn., and began doing film work for the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute.
 
“And then about eight months later I got into NYU film school, which was quite the shock,” said Torres, whose program is led by Spike Lee.
 
Be willing to take risks, UVA student-athletes were told. “I don’t think you’re ever [completely] ready for anything in life,” Torres said. “I think you have to jump into it and hopefully land on your feet.”
 
Three other former UVA student-athletes assisted with the breakout sessons: Monica Wright (basketball), Morgan Stearns (soccer) and Peggy Boutilier Williams (lacrosse and field hockey).
 
“Obviously, something like this would have helped me,” said Wright, who played professionally for seven seasons after graduating from UVA with a bachelor’s in sociology in 2010.
 
Wright is now an assistant coach on the women’s basketball team at Liberty University, where she’s pursuing a master’s in executive leadership.
 
At end of her playing career, while she was rehabbing from an injury, she joined the coaching staff at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, as a volunteer. She soon found she was hooked.
 
“I ended up loving [coaching],” Wright said, “and it feels like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
 
Among the student-athletes who attended the espnW event Monday night was Emma Sharon, a fourth-year coxswain on the UVA rowing team.
 
In October, Sharon was one of about a dozen UVA student-athletes, representing five sports, who spent the fall reading break in New York City, where they networked with alumni, including Hatchett, and visited non-profit organizations.
 
Hatchett led the breakout session for the fourth-year student-athletes Monday night, and she “talked about how your first year out of college, don’t expect it to be the best year of your life,” Sharon said. “Which I think was good for me to hear.”
 
Shaon, a sociology major, works part time as a photographer for the UVA athletics department, and after graduating next month she’ll be moving to Dallas. She’s accepted a job as a photographer for a non-profit there, Children’s Relief International.
 
“My big grand adventure,” Sharon said, laughing.
 
She’s not sure how things will go for her in Dallas, Sharon said. But during the espnW event Monday night, she said, she was reminded that she doesn’t “have to get my dream job my first year out of college. I have time to figure things out.”