Gov. Jim Doyle and Vernand Morency (back middle) visit with area eighth-grade students about the Wisconsin Covenant at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., last month.
Vernand Morency has put his own education on hold, twice. But even as a professional athlete, he continues to make it a personal priority.
That's why Morency felt honored earlier this month in joining Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle on his state-wide tour to promote the Wisconsin Covenant, an education initiative that guarantees affordable higher education for high school students who participate in the program and meet its requirements.
Morency joined Gov. Doyle for stops at St. Norbert College in De Pere and North Central Technical College in Wausau in mid-April to promote the Covenant by talking about the importance of education. Renowned business leader and former Milwaukee Brewers president and CEO Ulice Payne and Wisconsin State Supreme Court justice Ann Walsh Bradley also took part in the visits.
The Covenant was launched by Gov. Doyle in 2006. Eighth-grade students can sign the Covenant pledge, in which they commit to completing the classes they need to graduate and prepare for higher education, maintain a 'B' average, and be a good citizen.
In return, the state government will guarantee a spot in one of the state's public, private or technical schools with financial assistance to meet a family's needs. Last year more than 17,000 eighth graders signed up, and the push is on for this year's eighth graders to sign up before Sept. 30, 2008.
"When I was a kid, my parents couldn't afford to send me and my four younger sisters to school," Morency said. "I figured you had to be the smartest person or the fastest kid in class to go to college. Now with the Covenant, all kids still have the opportunity to go to school."
During the tour stops, which featured gatherings of eighth graders from various schools in the northeast and north-central parts of the state, Morency talked about how education has always been emphasized in his life, even as a professional athlete.
A decade ago as an 18-year-old high school graduate, Morency was drafted in the 14th round of the annual Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Colorado Rockies and ready to sign his first pro contract. Only he had to guarantee his mother one thing.
"My mom made me promise to go to school within three or four years, no matter what," Morency said. "That was the only way she'd let me sign my contract."
After four years in Colorado's minor-league system as a centerfielder, Morency fulfilled that promise, enrolling at Oklahoma State to study business and play football. With a chance to be a first-day draft pick after his junior year, he put school on hold once again to enter the NFL.
Still closing in on his degree in university studies with an emphasis in business, Morency continues to go to school now, spending the past two offseasons enrolled in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. He has spent separate stints at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, learning as much as he can about real estate development and finding a passion for his life when football is done.
"Education provides such a big advantage," Morency said. "It's important that kids know an education is affordable and attainable."
For more information on the Wisconsin Covenant, log on to www.wisconsincovenant.wi.gov.