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Tennis star takes second shot at degree at UNF

malivai washington
MaliVai Washington doesn’t like to dwell on past accomplishments.

He reached the finals match at Wimbledon, dueled tennis greats such as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and ascended the ranks to become one of the world’s best tennis players in the ‘90s. But he gives credit to his UNF education for allowing him to reinvent himself with a second career as a youth advocate, real estate broker and community leader.

“UNF gave me a great opportunity to take a step back, focus on where I wanted to go and get the knowledge to pursue those new goals,” Washington said.

Washington attended college at the University of Michigan on a tennis scholarship, but he left in 1989 before graduating to pursue stardom on the ATP World Tour. Success and fame soon followed, but in the back of his mind, he was still torn about leaving college without completing his degree. He planned on returning at some point to complete a bachelor’s degree, but a series of commitments, including sports announcing and other athletic engagements, kept him occupied.

Ponte Vedra Beach became his home after his athletic retirement in 1999, and he started investing more time in his MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation, which is located in Jacksonville’s Durkeeville neighborhood and promotes academic achievement and positive life skills for area youths through the game of tennis. That focus on education inspired Washington to return to the classroom.

“We had a Foundation event at UNF, and that got me thinking seriously about the school,” he said. “One of the members on my board had attended UNF, and I started hearing good word of mouth about the campus, especially the Coggin College of Business. It really helped make up my mind that this was a good place for me.”

Slowly but surely, Washington began his college journey anew more than 15 years after he first left. He said he got much more out of his time at UNF than he did at Michigan, a fact that he attributed to his relative age and maturity level.

“I was going to school with a purpose now,” he said. “The experience was much different than that of my earlier college career, where I was an 18-year-old with a scholarship. I was motivated to succeed at UNF.”

His academic focus was on accounting and finance, and he shared many classes with Dr. Sidney Rosenberg.

“He was a good student, very astute and well-read about what was going on in the real-estate market,” Rosenberg said. “He knew what it would take to succeed out there.”

Washington is now the owner of Washington Properties, a real estate brokerage and investment company where he also works as a broker. He said his UNF education has helped him extensively in building his business. He has also volunteered his time to build up the University’s endowment as part of the UNF Foundation Board.

“On the Board, I saw a group of people invested in the growth and development of this school, and I got to learn the broader goals that President Delaney has set,” Washington said. “You feel like you're a part of something bigger — part of an institution that is really a major part of the community. It’s a very gratifying experience to be an advocate for UNF, not just in Jacksonville, but across the globe.”

His own Foundation also has a close relationship with UNF. Washington said UNF student volunteers make regular appearances at the facility in Durkeeville, and many professors have donated their time and money to helping the growing non-profit organization. Washington said he hopes many of the children who participate in his Foundation pursue futures in higher education. If they choose UNF, that would be even better, he said.

“Ultimately, I envision more and more students from my Foundation attending UNF in the years to come,” he said. “I talk about the benefits of UNF a lot, and they know I went there, so they get to see an example of what UNF can do for them. The goal of my Kids Foundation is to get them in a life-long learning environment, and I’d be quite happy if they chose UNF to continue that process.”