Vai Sikahema, a former NFL running back and current NBC10 News Today morning news anchor, never finished his degree during his first stay at BYU. But at 40, he returned to earn a degree in communications, despite struggling with academics.
Sikahema spoke on Oct. 11 in the Madsen Recital Hall in the Harris Fine Arts Center as a recipient of the 2018 Alumni Achievement Awards, which annually recognizes BYU graduates for their professional accomplishments.
Sikahema — the first Tongan NFL player and two-time Emmy award-winning reporter — immigrated with his family to the United States when he was 10 years old and struggled to learn English while growing up.
He said he slowly learned to read and write thanks to the help of his mother’s visiting teacher, Barbara Nielson, who was also the local high school English teacher and faculty advisor of the school newspaper.
“‘He will take my English class and if he leaves with nothing else, he will know how to read,'” Sikahema said Nielson stated to his mother. “She said, ‘This will help him, at some point in his life.'”
Despite being accepted to BYU in 1980 to play for the Cougars, Sikahema’s GPA was too low to be accepted to a BYU major.
“I left BYU without ever declaring a major and that is the sad part of my story,” Sikahema said. “But I needed to be here and, while I was here, I was learning things I could not have learned perhaps anywhere else.”
Despite leaving without a degree, Sikahema said he learned important life lessons from some of his role models at the university. He said he often saw BYU football coach LaVell Edwards and other BYU professors treat their families with love and respect — a quality Sikahema has adopted.
“The professors at BYU are into football, baseball, basketball, but they really are more interested in helping you become a leader in your community, your family,” Sikahema said. “Those are the things I actually learned when I was here at BYU that were critical to my future.”
After playing professional football for the Phoenix Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles, Sikahema retired from the NFL in 1993. He received offers soon after to work as a CBS sports reporter in Wisconsin and Philadelphia.
He eventually received a phone call from BYU to complete a college degree in broadcast journalism, which he received at 40 years old. Sikahema also thanked those who have helped him through his life and said the key to a successful career is a hard worth ethic and desire to serve others.
“I pray that you will work and remember that there are thousands of others,” Sikahema said. “Think about the people who have served you in your life and what they’ve done and what you will do likewise to help others.”