Gray surprised with pregame on-field graduation ceremony

June 9th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- began his Saturday as the keynote speaker at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy eighth-grade Scholar Athletes graduation ceremony. That afternoon, he was surprised as the recipient of a personalized undergraduate ceremony at Nationals Park.

Gray, the Nationals' player ambassador to the Youth Baseball Academy, was under the impression he was participating in a pregame event to honor the class of 2024 ahead of the Nationals' 7-3 win against the Braves. In reality, the Nats had teamed up with Le Moyne College and Gray’s family to celebrate the 26-year-old's recent completion of his bachelor’s degree in business management and leadership, summa cum laude.

“I had no idea, honestly,” Gray said, also noting, “That was really sweet that they did that. For all my friends to come -- my family, obviously, as well -- for them to put that together, it’s a touching moment.”

After three years of college, Gray was drafted in 2018 by the Reds. He worked toward his degree while playing professional baseball, and he finished it in January ahead of his fourth Major League season with the Nationals. Gray, an alumnus of the MLB Develops and Breakthrough Series programs, filed his final assignment from the MLB Dream Series where he was a speaker.

Le Moyne held its 2024 commencement in May while the Nationals were playing in Philadelphia. Gray, rehabbing from a right elbow/forearm flexor strain since April, was not able to attend. The following day, he posted a photo of his name plate from graduation. Gray received an outpouring of support on social media -- and he thought that was the extent of the fanfare.

Following the on-field Academy graduation recognition on Saturday, Gray’s own ceremony unexpectedly began. Gray was brought toward home plate, where he was surprised by Jim Joseph, Le Moyne College vice president and dean of the Madden College of Business & Economics, his mother, brothers and girlfriend.

“Genuine reaction was [I was] obviously thrilled and grateful to have people in my corner that want to celebrate something like that in the midst of a season and the midst of a rehab, on top of that,” said Gray. “It’s really a moment I’ll enjoy.”

Gray joins his siblings Jonathan (Hampton University) and Jayson (Dominican University) as college graduates.

“You went to school, you did your homework, you paid attention -- and then you did other things. Education was always top,” said Josiah’s mother, Monica. “[I am most proud of] being able to be here and being able to witness the moment.”

Joseph presented Gray with his diploma and stoles. Then, a 90-second video appeared on the Jumbotron that featured congratulatory messages from MLB Commissioner and Le Moyne alumnus Rob Manfred, Gray’s family, friends, former professors and MLB Breakthrough Series participants, including YBA Scholar Athlete Mike Cureton. As the crowd applauded, so did an elated cheering section of 40 friends and family members near the Nationals' dugout who made the trip.

In true graduation fashion, the ceremony concluded with Gray and the Academy scholar athletes tossing their caps in accomplishment into the Nationals Park sky.

Gray hasn’t closed his books just yet. He is open to pursuing a Master’s degree to advance himself in business. Among his ventures, last month Gray became a founding member of the DC Power Football Club (USL Super League) ownership group.

“I have no problem with him going back to school,” said Monica. “I think it’s great.”

The fans at Nationals Park, the well-wishers in the video, the surprise cheering section -- they all spoke to the feat Gray attained while becoming an All-Star big league starting pitcher.

“As I got closer in achieving that first goal of being a Major Leaguer, I realized there was so much more than just being a Major Leaguer and going out there and playing every day,” Gray said in his keynote address at the Academy graduation.

“Kids look up to Major Leaguers -- maybe because they want to be one, or simply because they understand the time, dedication and everything that goes into achieving your dreams. So I challenge all of you to achieve your dreams, work hard every day because one day you could become a Major Leaguer, or a Major Leaguer in whatever profession you choose.”