The seniors who received their diplomas were Allison Cook, Lauren Yager, Jessika Kachinic, Annelise Babula, Kevin Hines, and Logan Smith. O'Brien received his master's of business administration degree from the school.
O'Brien said that he sat down with school officials in November when they realized there would be a conflict with the date and came up with a solution to provide both events to the rowers.
And the rowers were really appreciative that they didn't have to choose between the two.
"My friends don't understand why I would miss graduation for this," said Yager, a graduate of Upper Moreland High. "It means everything that the university would do this for us."
This is Yager's only second year as a competitive rower, but she quickly became hooked on the sport.
"I don't want to miss out on graduation and can still compete in this huge race," she said.
School president Stephen Spinelli Jr. said it was important for Philadelphia to show the support to the rowers and their coach.
"We wanted to embrace the total educational experience and honor it," he said.
Adding to the graduation event was that five of the six rowers were involved in races on Friday that advanced to Saturday's semifinals.
Hines and Smith and coxswain Babula were part of the men's varsity heavyweight four (non-classification race) that won its heat Friday and advanced to Saturday's semifinal.
"It was probably our best race yet, and it came at the right time of the season, and I am really excited for Saturday," Smith said.
And he was equally excited for Friday's graduation.
"I am really appreciative of this and glad I could have this ceremony instead of missing it all together," he said.
Cook and Yager were part of the women's varsity eight that placed third and advanced to the semifinal round.
Adding to the flavor of the event was the keynote speaker, John Stortbeck III, founder and CEO of Boathouse Sports and a member of the U.S. Olympic rowing team in 1984 and 1988.
One additional bonus to the rowers was to walk with their coach in this graduation ceremony.
"It's so exciting that coach got to walk with us," Yager said.
"This is something the youngsters will remember for the rest of their lives," O'Brien said. "And it's something I won't forget, either."
Notes. It was an impressive first day for Drexel, which advanced all 12 of its boats and earned nine first-place and three second-place finishes. The men's second varsity eight and the women's second varsity eight has already advanced to the finals. . . . Aberdeen Asset Management, the title sponsor of the regatta, announced on Friday morning a three-year contract extension beginning in 2014 to keep the event in Philadelphia. . . . For complete results, go to www.dadvail.org.
Contact Marc Narducci at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sjnard on Twitter.