Christopher Graham ’93: From first-generation student to athletic conference commissioner

Ripon College fit the bill for first-generation student Christopher Graham ’93. “I was looking for a supportive campus, a place where I would stay engaged and could also play two varsity sports,” Graham says. “A friend and fellow Whitewater High School alum, Maria Yao ’91, helped get me interested and stay connected through the college search process.”

Graham, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is now commissioner for the NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. He also served a host and presenter for Ripon College’s Career Discovery Tour in Denver.

At Ripon, Graham majored in business management and minored in leadership studies. He earned all-conference honors in both basketball and baseball and was part of three Midwest Conference championship teams, winning the league title in baseball in 1990 and basketball championships during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.

After graduation, he worked in sales for a year before returning to Ripon to get his certificate in K-12 education. At the same time, he worked for the Ripon College Athletic Department as sports information director and assistant baseball coach. He says this was pivotal for his future career ambitions.

“I discovered I wanted to get into athletic administration and took job at the Midwest Conference,” he says. He began his career in athletic administration as the assistant commissioner for NCAA Division III Midwest Conference athletics. In 2009, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis.

In his current job, oversees the operations, conduct, and administration of NCAA Division II athletics in a five-state region. “The favorite part of my job is I get to work with sports every day,” he says. “Working in collegiate athletics is rewarding and enriching, but far more complex than most probably understand. As a commissioner, I essentially run a small nonprofit business responsible for the competitive experiences of 5,000 student-athletes each year. This entails all facets of competition, including scheduling, funding, officiating, rule making and enforcement, participant awards and recognition, risk management, health and safety, and personal development opportunities.”

Graham attributes much of his success to Ripon College. “A liberal arts education is very valuable in that it exposes you to a lot of different disciplines,” he says. “It makes you a well-rounded individual. It aided me with the development of my critical thinking.

“I regularly look back on my economics and accounting courses with Professors Paul Schoofs and (John) Bowen for theory and application as I run the business side of my organization. My communication style and relationship building was influenced by psychology and philosophy courses with Professors (Robert) Young and (Robert “Spud”) Hannaford, respectively. Professor (Jack) Christ’s Leadership Studies program was also influential in my growth.”

While Graham says he is living his dream job, he still misses aspects of Ripon, which was his home for 20 years. And he is proud of the athletic program at Ripon College. “For a Division III campus, the strong varsity athletic programs support the well-being and health of all of the campus, he says. “Ripon did it the right way, and I am very proud to be an alumnus associated with such a beautiful project.”

He also values the lifelong relationships that he nurtured here. “Along with meeting my wife, Penny (Larson Graham ’94), at school, I’m still very close to many teammates,” he says. “I’m also thankful for the support of the faculty and staff that kept me on track, particularly at a time when I wasn’t sure what it was I wanted to do after graduating.”


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