Former Razorback Baseball Player Graduates After 40 Years

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) -- One of the first African-American baseball players for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks fulfills his dream of graduating almost 40 years after he left.

Arvis Harper Jr. played ball at the university from 1974 to 1978.

Before he could graduate, he was drafted by the Houston Astros.

Not long after that, he got married, started a family and finishing school fell on the back burner.

Harper has done a lot since he left and knows he could have graduated at any other university.

He was a Hog though and wanted to graduate as one.

"I was recruited," Harper said. "I’m a letterman. I’m a Hog and I wanted to do it not only athletically, but I wanted to do it academically. I wanted my name on the wall."

For the past two years, Harper has been taking online classes.

On Friday (May 11), he graduated with a major in interdisciplinary studies and minors in business, criminal justice and African American history.

He was filled with emotions just hours before the ceremony as he drew closer to finishing what he started all those years ago.

"I wanted to be more than just an athlete," Harper said. "I wanted to get my degree. It was something that never left me and it was important to my parents, it was important to me. It was on my bucket list to make sure I get taken care of."

Harper was one of the first African-American Razorback baseball players along with Hank Thompson.

He said at the time, they just wanted to play the game they loved but racial tensions put a lot of pressure and responsibility on the two players.

Harper said one side was waiting for them to slip up while the other side watched how they handled the harassment.

"This was our Jackie Robinson moment because we knew how we conducted ourselves, how we carried ourselves on and off the field, could determine the future of a lot of black athletes," Harper said. "A lot of black future baseball players at the University of Arkansas."

Their former coach, Norm DeBriyn, said they paved the way for those athletes at the university.

After all these years, he never expected he would see his former outfielder finally walk across the stage.

"You know I credit him and that’s such an accomplishment," DeBriyn said. "I’m so proud of what he’s done because its unusual, its not the norm that normally people will follow."

Harper stressed that there are ways for older people like himself to go back and finish up a degree or expand on their education.

He advises those thinking about it to go out and do it.