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A Season to Celebrate Graduates: Rhajani Shepherd

Rhajani Shepherd’s best advice for high school students: Don’t be afraid to try new things.

The Kalamazoo Central graduate will be trying something new when she goes to Michigan State University in the fall: She is joining the MSU Women’s Rowing team.

The Kalamazoo Central volleyball standout had been looking at Michigan State as a possible site to continue her volleyball career. The MSU volleyball program encouraged her to get more training, but that was followed up by a surprise recruiting email from the women’s rowing coach. “At first, I didn’t know what to do. I sent the email to my mom and she said, ‘Let’s look into it,’” Shepherd said. “I did a little research and watched some videos. My mom said, ‘Don’t shoot it down, let’s give it a try.’”

They went for a campus visit to meet the coaching staff and to watch practice, where she was impressed by the coaches and athletic trainer.

“Watching it, it hit me that this was something I wanted to try,” said Shepherd, 17. “I like how with rowing you have to be in sync with the people in your shell - or boat. This is just super, super teamwork.”

She has never held on oar or been in a shell yet, but rowing may not be as big of a leap as some may imagine, she said. While people may think of rowing as being about arm work, it’s actually 80 percent legs and 20 percent arms, and “volleyball players jump a lot. I’m a middle and it takes a lot of leg strength to push off.”

Rhajani played volleyball for seven years. As the KC varsity volleyball team captain, she earned her third-year varsity award and holds both SMAC All-Conference and All-Region awards. But, she was more than a volleyball player at KC.

 She also served as editor in chief of the yearbook staff, a member of the National Honor Society, fundraising coordinator for the student council, and a violinist for her school orchestras since fourth grade.

As excited as she is at the prospect of trying her new sport, what really attracted Shepherd to MSU is the school’s food science program.

“In my mind, I wanted to be a chef first,” she said. “I looked into that and then I found food science and then food technology, where they actually make the food that we eat. “I’m going into college with an open mind. I want to take this shot.”