After his sophomore year at Cornell in 1997, Jean-Marc Pelletier was drafted into the NHL. Turning pro was "one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. But the Philadelphia Flyers made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and I don't regret it," said Pelletier. "Pursuing this dream of playing in the National Hockey League is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Unlike many athletes who someday hope to return to school to finish their degrees, Pelletier made good on his commitment 14 years after leaving the Hill for the ice. He was one of about 300 January graduates attending a ceremony Dec. 17 in Barton Hall. "I'm happy to have come back to Cornell to finish what I started," he said.
Pelletier continued to take classes during his years as a pro. When he retired a year and a half ago, he had 12 credits left to earn his degree from Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. He and his wife, Anne Heyn '98 -- who also played hockey at Cornell -- and their daughter, Jane, returned to campus for the fall 2011 semester.
Pro hockey didn't make Pelletier rich, but even if it had, "I still would have come back just on principle," he said. "I don't quit. I always finish what I start. It was important for me to say to my daughter: 'I graduated from a great school.' Nobody can ever take that away from me."
Cornell recruited Pelletier, a goalie, at age 17 from Quebec (he holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship). Educated in French but bilingual, Pelletier found his first freshman semester as a communication major "a little bit difficult, but once I figured out American testing, things went smoothly. I really had the two best years of my life."
When he left in 1997, the Internet was accessed via dial-up modems. He returned to find a new world of electronic access to information and communication with faculty. And as a senior he spent much of the past semester searching for and applying to jobs.
Pelletier attended classes with students who were four years old when he left Cornell. Some of his references in class escaped them. "Everyone was very tolerant and accepting, and when they knew my story said, 'That's pretty neat.' It was really nice to be around so many bright young minds," Pelletier said.
"Jean-Marc was a terrific role model, showing the class the importance of their education, his values and mature outlook on life," said Brian Earle, senior lecturer in communication. "Although he was doing well playing hockey (his team had won their championship and he was MVP), he wanted to finish his degree and begin life after hockey. He was modest about his accomplishments, always joking with the class that he was really far behind them."
Pelletier said taking the road less traveled -- or skated -- has paid off: "A Cornell degree is really worth something, and I'm proud to have one."
Jean-Marc Pelletier, Class of 2011, begins his new job with Lego, the Danish toy manufacturer, Jan. 3.