Last week California State University Bakersfield marked its annual commencement with several ceremonies honoring those who put in the work and completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees.
It was the second-largest graduating class ranking only behind the 2013 class in terms of size.
Several student-athletes made the walk across the stage and will take the next steps of their professional journeys. Many of them will no longer compete in sports, and that’s OK; there’s a reason they major in something outside of athletics.
I recently had the chance to catch up with one graduate from a year ago. Amber Williams was a standout women’s basketball player who competed from 2010-2013 with our program and was the leading scorer at the Division I level for CSUB and second all-time. While Amber thought about an overseas pro career briefly, she took another route coming out of college.
Amber Williams is now known as Amber Renee, that’s the new Los Angeles music-scene version of the smiling CSUB sweetheart who once drilled three-pointers while flashing that memorable grin.
Her latest accomplishments have nothing to do with jump shots or assists, she’s about to release her first solo album “More of Me” with the independent label Insane1 Records. In a 12-month span she’s managed to move to Los Angeles and start a music career, write 13 songs, work a few gigs and shoot a couple of videos. She hit the ground singing and hasn’t looked back.
Did I mention that she really can sing? While her style of music isn’t necessarily what I would have on my IPod, the music sounds straight out of a major record label and her on stage presence lets you know she is destined for a headlining gig sooner rather than later.
We all knew Amber as a good player, terrific shooter, and an all-out sweetheart to be around. It’s amusing to those of us that knew her as a player and English major to see the one-time darling of the dribble as backwards-hat-wearing R&B entertainer. I guess image is everything.
She dances and sings on stage and credits basketball conditioning with helping her in that realm. Performers often work on their breath control while on stage. Fans come to hear her sing, not breathe heavily into a microphone because the last dance routine was exhausting. It’s all in a day’s work.
It’s a new venture for Amber as a professional but she’s been working on the soon-to-be-released album for a couple of years. Even when she was running the floors and scoring layups she was writing songs and polishing her craft. It truly has been a labor of love.
So, we can add her to the roster of professionals outside of athletics. She also credits her time as a student-athlete with providing her the time management and dedication skills needed to excel in this specific career path. It’s not just singing when it becomes your livelihood.
The hoopster-turned-headliner hopeful is also keeping close to her Roadrunner roots. When asked about returning to Bakersfield as Amber Renee and putting on a show her answer was instant.
“Of course, that’s my school, it will always be my school.”
Even though it’s not my kind of music, I’d be the first in line.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.