Success Story May 26, 2021 at 08:30 am

After 41 yrs, former NFL player Keena Turner finally gets to graduate alongside his daughter

Ama Nunoo May 26, 2021 at 08:30 am

May 26, 2021 at 08:30 am | Success Story

Keena Turner and his daughter Ella both graduated from Purdue on May 15 with their family cheering them on. Photo: San Francisco 49ers/ ESPN

Football living legend Keena Turner always knew he wanted to complete his degree at his alma mater Purdue University. This year, he got to fulfill his dream after 41 years. The icing on the cake was, he got to graduate with his daughter at the same stadium he once played at.

Turner had a memorable career. Having four Super Bowl rings is no mean feat, and as a man with high standards, he knew the circle would be complete if he gets his degree.

That did not materialize as early as he would have hoped but he is glad that he has finally made it.

Turner came to Purdue to play football in 1976, according to Purdue Athletics.  His legacy still lives on in the school’s history books as he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior and senior while leading the “Junk Defense”.

The student-athlete was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1980 in the second round of the 1980 NFL Draft. He was close to meeting his required credits for graduation but he signed up for the partnership between the 49ers and the University of San Francisco and used the opportunity to finish his degree program and earn his diploma at the University of San Francisco.

Nonetheless, Purdue was always etched in his heart, and the one person who kept encouraging him was his wife, Linda Turner. Turner eventually started enrolling in classes last fall, taking courses in supply-chain management and physical geography online at age 60. He did this while working with the Niners, serving as vice president and senior advisor to the general manager.  

“When he learned he could graduate with Ella, who enrolled in 2017, the opportunity was too good to pass up,” ESPN explained.

“He said he could do it and I said OK, but of course he was over here stressed out about making sure he gets his quizzes done by the deadline, and he’s traveling and going to different schools for scouting,” Ella said.

“I said, ‘See, I told you, you could have just waited until the summer,’ but he got it all done. He was super on top of it.”

His whole family pitched in to make sure he was able to balance the work and school schedule and they were the support he needed to keep pushing.

Everything worked out eventually, and Turner and Ella were looking forward to graduation but the dynamics that came with the pandemic almost robbed the father-daughter duo from sharing the graduation stage.

“Here’s the stadium I played in, and it had all those kinds of emotions and memories,” Turner said. “Over this last year, we weren’t sure if there would be a physical graduation, so there was all of this uncertainty about how it would happen, and so for Purdue to have a physical graduation and have all the graduates in the stadium and getting the opportunity to be acknowledged by family and friends in this way, it was great.”

“I actually sat with Ella in the stands. I went in with Ella, and when my school was called, I stood up and got acknowledged by my school, but I was there the whole time with her. That was really cool.”

A virtual ceremony would not rob them of their accomplishments but it sure would have missed the oomph that comes with walking in the Ross-Ade Stadium, with family cheering them on and Turner proudly representing as Ella’s father and having his diploma for organizational leadership from Purdue Polytechnic Institute in hand.

“The emotion of being proud of her and seeing her make this accomplishment back at my school, back at Purdue, that would have been more than enough,” Turner said. “But then the icing of me being there and being part of it in that way and that accomplishment, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

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