March 31, 2022
Address by Heather O’Reilly caps an Olympic-themed year that featured gold medalists and sport professionals to enrich the academic experience of Centenary University students
HACKETTSTOWN, NJ, March 31, 2022—Three-time Olympic gold medalist and former US Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) member Heather O’Reilly will deliver the address at the 147th commencement of Centenary University during two ceremonies on Saturday, May 7, University President Bruce Murphy, Ed.D., announced today. The University will present O’Reilly with a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to international sport and her leadership in championing equal pay for the USWNT.
O’Reilly’s address will cap an Olympic-themed academic year at Centenary. Guest speakers have included athletes and coaches who have won Olympic and Paralympic gold, as well as sport professionals who have worked behind the scenes to plan international sporting events, including the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In addition, Centenary University First Lady Jeanne Murphy is a former member of several US Olympic and Paralympic Games committees.
A three-time Olympian, O’Reilly won gold with Team USA in 2004, 2008, and 2012. She was also a member of the USWNT that captured the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. She ended her playing career with the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), winning the 2019 NWSL championship with her team. Today, O’Reilly is the mother of two young boys, an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, and an analyst for Fox Sports.
Despite all of the accolades she’s earned, O’Reilly doesn’t consider her World Cup championship or Olympic gold medals the pinnacle of her soccer career. Instead, she points to the lessons learned about resilience and overcoming adversity during the tough times as critical to shaping the person she is today.
“In my life, I’ve checked off a lot of boxes in terms of winning medals and championships,” said O’Reilly. “But all of that can still leave you feeling unfulfilled, even though you achieve these wonderful things. Instead, I’ve found myself sitting in the space of accomplishing certain goals, but never achieving mastery. For me, it’s more about the lessons you learn about resilience and overcoming adversity than about winning.”
The New Jersey native showed prowess on the pitch as a youngster. A member of the New Jersey Olympic Development Program at age 14, the East Brunswick native played for coach Kevin Davies, who is now the head women’s soccer coach for Centenary University. She went on to attend the University of North Carolina, graduating with an education degree. Davies said of his former player, “It was a privilege to coach Heather and so fantastic for me to see where she’s gone, not only on the soccer field, but in her career.”
O’Reilly has also been an advocate for the USWNT class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. Filed in 2016, the lawsuit challenged the existing pay scale for the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams, shining a light on the consistently lower wages earned by the women’s team, despite their superior results on the field. In a settlement reached earlier this year, the U.S. Soccer Federation agreed to pay $22 million in back pay to the players, as well as $2 million to establish a fund for USWNT players’ post-career goals and charitable efforts.
In her commencement address at Centenary, she plans to discuss the lawsuit within the context of standing up for things you believe in: “If you want to make things right and change history, you have to be willing to fight for it. We’re all very proud of our team and our legacy. We stood our ground and got people to think differently. Besides the wins on the field, I think this is something our team will be remembered for and I’m thrilled to be part of that group.”
ABOUT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY
Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary University’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix provides an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township.