“I’m the last person someone from my high school would believe is getting a master’s degree and wrestling at the Division I level,” admitted Michael Rosati ’10, M.B.A. ’12, who not only will receive his Master of Business Administration on Thursday, May 10, but will also deliver the student address at Rider’s Graduate and College of Continuing Studies Commencement.
He’s got a point. An admittedly uninspired student at Hamilton (N.J.) High School West who once simply walked away from the school’s wrestling team, Rosati now finds himself with more than a decade of honorable service to the United States Coast Guard, a 3.6 grade point average in his master’s program, and a list of accomplishments on the Lawrenceville campus that set him apart from many of his peers.
Not only has Rosati been a part of Rider’s powerhouse wrestling program, competing this past season in the 149-pound weight class, but he also is one of very few collegiate grapplers to have coached at the Division I level – the NCAA’s top level of competition – before having ever worn the singlet.
Rosati, who snubbed wrestling for the swim team as a high-school freshman, returned to the mat the following year, only to soon quit the program. Academic ineligibility cost him the right to compete in both of his last two years at Hamilton West, which preceded his enlistment in the Coast Guard after graduating.
“Wrestling was a hobby in high school,” Rosati recalled. “I wasn’t serious about it until the Coast Guard.”
As it happens, his newfound passion for the sport also sparked Rosati’s interest in the classroom – though it did not develop overnight. While stationed in Ketchikan, Alaska, he got involved coaching a team of middle-school wrestlers for two years, after his captain incentivized him by offering him time off to do so.
“That got me involved in coaching,” said Rosati, whose next assignment, in nearby Point Pleasant, N.J., allowed him to catch on with the staff at his old high school, where he eventually worked his way up to assistant head coach.
Not long after, Michael New, the head coach at Princeton University, hired Rosati to work with his wrestling club, before offering him a spot on the Tigers’ staff.
“That was such a terrific experience, working with top-notch students and athletes,” he recalled. It really made me believe in myself, realizing that none of it was beyond my reach.”
Rosati says the turning point came, ironically, during one of Princeton’s matches against Rider, in Alumni Gym.
“They (Rider) beat up us pretty good, and afterward, I had a chance to speak to (Rider assistant coach) John Hangey about returning to school,” he said. “I had always felt a hole, a hunger, like I had some unfinished business, with wrestling, and with school. For me, there was the matter of credibility, too. Here I was, coaching at this Ivy League program, and the students are asking me where I wrestled, where I went to college.”
Hangey arranged for Rosati to “walk on” to the team – that is, compete, but not as a scholarship student-athlete – an opportunity of which Rosati took full advantage. He earned his B.A. in English in 2010, cum laude, and subsequently enrolled in Rider’s M.B.A. program, at the urging of head coach Gary Taylor.
According to Rosati, the program is a perfect complement to his military aspirations. The Chief Petty Officer, who first sought a post-baccalaureate degree in order to facilitate a promotion within the armed services, explains that the finest officers are those who embody the strongest leadership traits.
“They solve problems with creative solutions, and the M.B.A. program is perfect for that,” said Rosati, a founding member of the Rider University Veterans Association, which aids military veterans in their assimilation onto campus as students. “It’s not spoon-fed knowledge; there is a premium on critical thinking.”
In his Commencement address, Rosati, who also earned the inaugural Rider Way Award this spring, will discuss the importance of always moving forward, a point about technique he took from wrestling, but now applies to all facets of life.
“You can’t get discouraged by setbacks, or get hung up on the smaller things,” explained Rosati, who says he learned as much about himself on the mat as in the classroom. “My time at Rider has been like my penance, my redemption. It was me moving forward.”