Student-athlete OT major named Outstanding Student at Commencement

The recognition and support Anthony Sassano ’18 has experienced at Dominican has ranged from the President of the University to the President of the NCAA.

The cross country runner out of Buchanan High School in Clovis, who is progressing into the Occupational Therapy’s department master’s program, has been involved since his sophomore year as a member of the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). It is a position that has led him to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis a dozen times, created a potential health and wellness job opportunity with a non-profit based in Boston, and featured him in an “It’s On Us” public service announcement on national television during March Madness.

“I would have never gotten that experience if not for Dominican,” says Anthony, who was named Dominican’s Outstanding Student in the Class of 2018 at Commencement last Saturday.

“If I want to get back to the root of it all, it all comes from the support I have received. Everyone here has seemed to see more in me than I saw in myself. That might be the biggest thing I have gotten out of Dominican – I’ve been able to see what everyone else has seen in me.”

Anthony, admittedly a shy person when he arrived on campus, has come out of his shell at the urging and support of many others. He has been a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics, Boys and Girls Clubs, and LifeHouse, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities.

This summer, Anthony plans to travel to Boston and may visit Team IMPACT headquarters. With SAAC, he became an NCAA ambassador with Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit in Quincy, MA that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with local college athletic teams.

With the help of Team IMPACT representatives, Anthony reached out to Marin General Hospital and various OT clinics in Marin County to initiate and finalize the process of making a Team IMPACT match for a child in San Rafael to Dominican men’s basketball coach Booker Harris and the Penguins basketball team. The process will feature a “Draft Day” where the child will sign a letter of intent to become an official member of the Penguins’ squad and enter into a two-year relationship of mutual support.

Anthony was drawn to Dominican by the reputation of its Occupational Therapy department and its 4 + 1 BS/MS in Health Science and OT program. Led by Justin Valdez ‘15, Anthony also was recruited to compete on the Dominican cross country team, which set into motion his leadership progression into the Penguin Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. PSAAC member and the Outstanding Student from the Class of 2016 Jessy Marshall ’16, then president of the Pacific West Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, was impressed with Anthony’s passion and work ethic that she recommended he apply for the NCAA Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), even though he was a sophomore at the time.

That was a game changer.

“I was so overwhelmed by how much all the students on their NCAA SAAC committees were doing on campus and in their communities and it really motivated me,” says Anthony, who appeared in four PSAs for the NCAA including one on leadership development. “I wanted to do what they are doing and make a difference on our campus and our community. It was out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to make an impact.”

Anthony became an at-large SAAC representative from the PacWest, the first time the conference has had two SAAC members. He has conversed with NCAA President Mark Emmert, traveled from San Diego to Washington, D.C., served on the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee and this past January presented on a panel at the NCAA National Convention. Dominican President Mary Marcy, who also attended the conference, praised Anthony for his efforts and lent her support.

“I was super shy. It forced me to go out and talk to people and to present to people, and that’s helped me in the Occupational Therapy program and in life in general,” Anthony says. “It’s made me more confident. It’s made a huge impact in me in every way.”

So have Dominican athletics administrators, such as Cassie Urroz, Phil Billeci-Gard, and Amy Henkelman, and OT professors such as Kitsum Li, Laura Hess, and Karen McCarthy. They and others helped the shy kid from Clovis evolve into an ambassador for the NCAA who has filmed four different PSAs, including one that has aired the past two years during the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournaments.

Anthony saw the first one while at Buffalo Wild Wings in Clovis, a debut that launched dozens of congratulatory texts and Instagram stories.

That, however, is not Anthony’s highlight at Dominican.

“Growing up in rural California and then coming here was definitely a cultural shock and it was something I was worried about initially,” he says. “The best thing I got out of it was to experience a different culture and to have some of my morals and values challenged. It has helped me find who I am as a person.”


May 15, 2018