Four years ago, Marcella Rocha left behind her Brazilian homeland and traveled to a new hemisphere to pursue her dream of playing basketball in America.
Not knowing a word of English, she made sure to learn how to say “I am Marcella,” “I don’t speak English” and, like most any college student, “I am hungry.”
On May 10, the former Colonel point guard stood before her fellow graduates in Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Health Sciences to deliver the student commencement address. Little wonder she titled her address “Nada Acontece por Acaso” or, in her newfound English, “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
“For some reason, I landed here in Richmond, Kentucky, 4,482 miles away from a year-round tan,” she said. “I came to America with a bag full of dreams, hopes and Brazilian food. EKU became my pathway to my dreams and my home away from home. It changed me in ways I could’ve never imagined.”
As a student-athlete, her teammates became her new family. “If someone gets in trouble, we are all in trouble and that day off you were looking forward to turns into a 6 a.m. practice. Believe it or not, that was easy to handle, and it was not until my career was over that I found the real meaning of knowing who you are.”
Rocha came to Eastern after two years at the College of Central Florida, where she learned English and adapted to American-style basketball. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management from EKU in 2017 and added a master’s degree in physical education this spring. While getting the latter, she was a graduate assistant for the EKU Diversity Office and program coordinator for Athletes on a Mission, a partnership between the Bratzke Student-Athlete Academic Success Center and Madison Middle School. Rocha, who now resides in Shelbyville, hopes to work in a university environment, where she can share her experiences as an international student-athlete, and someday open her own gymnastics or sports performance facility.
“Every challenge in our lives serves to teach us something,” Rocha said. “My challenges taught me how to be present, how to value every little moment we have with our beloved ones and by ourselves. It taught me that it is OK not to be OK, that I am not alone and I will never be as long as I keep my family and friends close to me. For that, I am thankful for you who have crossed my path, who have asked me how I was, who have given me a simple smile from far away. I am thankful for all of you who listened and guided me a journey I thought I wouldn’t be able to face.
“If EKU was to you at least half of what it has been for me, I truly believe we are ready to face this new journey.”