May 3, 2012

(Miami Herald) -- When Shaquille O’Neal graduates from Barry University this weekend, he’ll receive a Ph.D in organizational learning and leadership.

More than 1,100 students will graduate from Barry University on Saturday, but only one will be wearing a custom-made size-XXXL gown — seven-foot-one, 325-pound Shaquille O’Neal, the former Miami Heat and NBA superstar.

Among O’Neal’s many nicknames during his 19-year career were “The Big Aristotle,’’ “The Diesel’’ and “Superman.’’ After this weekend, he’d like to be referred to as “Dr. O’Neal’’ following his graduation with a doctoral degree in education.

O’Neal spent the past 4 1/2 years working toward his degree in organizational learning and leadership, with a specialization in human resource development.

“I was skeptical at first, because I only knew what I saw of him on TV and media,’’ said David M. Kopp, the department chair who guided O’Neal through the program. “I’m not a sports freak, and didn’t know what to make of it. But he insisted he wanted to earn it, and he certainly did that. He was thoughtful, asked very good questions, and never missed an appointment.’’

O’Neal graduates with a 3.81 grade-point average, and he completed 54 credit hours comprised of 16 courses and six credit hours of self-directed research. The title of his doctoral capstone project was “The Duality of Humor and Seriousness in Leadership Styles.’’ He interviewed CEO’s and business leaders about their use of humor in the workplace and presented his findings to a faculty panel last month.

“Kids can still call me Shaq, but adults should call me Dr. O’Neal,’’ he said by phone on Wednesday. “I did this for two reasons. One, I wanted to continue challenging myself, see if I could do it. I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent, didn’t believe in school. But my parents instituted no pass-no play in our house, and that changed my life. Also, a lot of kids look up to me, especially my own kids, and now that I’m not playing anymore, I want them to have something to look up to me for.’’

O’Neal left Louisiana State University after three years to join the NBA in 1992, but eight years later fulfilled a promise to his mother by completing his bachelor’s degree in general studies. In 2005, he received a master’s of business administration through the University of Phoenix online degree program.

“As I was playing, I was doing a lot of business and a lot of the people I was dealing didn’t think we athletes knew what we’re talking about, so I wanted to get my MBA,’’ O’Neal said. “As for my doctorate, I consider myself an expert on leadership from all the years leading in the locker room, but I wanted to become a professional practitioner in the field of leadership. I want to be an African-American version of Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker who can go into Fortune 500 companies and teach them how to get better.’’

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