Gov. John Bel Edwards told Grambling State University graduates Wednesday that they have been empowered to make a difference and they are obligated to do so. Edwards told the 280 graduates that success is about making a positive difference in your community.
“Make a difference here at Grambling so that more students can have the opportunity that you just had,” he said.
GSU hosted the first of two ceremonies Wednesday at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center for graduates and their families. Speaking at his first commencement since the pandemic began, Edwards told the socially distanced, masked crowd that the circumstances the Class of 2021 endured have helped graduates build a solid foundation.
“Nothing can take this day away from you. Nothing can take this accomplishment from you – not a pandemic, not a hurricane, not a winter storm or any other challenge,” he said. Such times test the foundation that one has built, Edwards explained.
“Your ability to think outside the box, to adapt to these challenges is exactly why I know you’re going to go on and do great things for yourself, your family, your community, for our state, and for Grambling State University,” he said. “We need your innovative minds to solve the world’s problems and the more I learn about this class, I’m convinced that you are going to do just that.”
He noted that the Class of 2021 is special for many reasons including that it boasts 461 graduates — 316 from Louisiana (including one from his hometown) and 145 from out-of-state (including 25 from other countries). Of those, 142 are receiving master’s degrees and four are receiving doctorates in educational development.
The class includes fraternal triplets Stevie, Steven, and Stephon Wilson; Alexis White, the first graduate of the university’s cybersecurity program, and students who overcame daunting trials in order to graduate. During commencement, Ciara Merrill, of New Orleans, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
Edwards encouraged all the graduates to continue their life journey and to thrive, explaining that life won’t always be easy.
“I believe in you,” he said. “I want you to believe in yourself. God has ordered your steps and you just have to keep moving your feet.”
Grambling State President Rick Gallot reminded the audience of the opportunities and challenges brought about during the pandemic, including a transition to online classes and the cancellation of the Spring 2020 Commencement.
He said he is grateful for the leadership of Gov. Edwards, the state fire marshal, and the Centers for Disease Control that the graduation ceremony could be held on Wednesday.
Family and friends clapped and cheered in celebration — many using cell phones to capture the moment — as graduates were recognized.
Marie Ramirez, her husband Rafael Ramirez Jr., and family drove eight hours from San Antonio, Texas to watch as her son Rafael Remirez III received his degree in sports management.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” she said. “We are just super proud of him.”
As graduates lined up to get their photos, many reflected on their time at GSU. Oakdale native LaTina S. Johnson, who earned her doctorate in developmental education, said she was “very glad to have made it to this point.”
“I was that student who came to college late and I faced a lot of obstacles including technology,” she said, explaining that her thesis focused on non-traditional students.
Many graduates were carrying on the legacy that their relatives had begun at Grambling, including Phillip Lee, of Bossier City. The sports management graduate proudly wore regalia identifying him as a scholar-athlete. Many of Lee’s family members have matriculated at Grambling including his brother Matthew, a criminal justice major, who is now working as a Dallas police officer.
Chelsea Williams, who returned to Grambling after dropping out twice due to life circumstances, said although she struggled, she never gave up.
“It’s for my children,” she said. “I did it for them to see that it’s possible,” she said. “My spirit was broken for a long time. I took a couple of breaks but I never gave up. I came back with my head up and a smile on my face.”
The Calhoun native majored in mass communications and is now working as a digital producer at a local television station.
GSU’s second and final Spring Semester 2021 commencement ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. today It will be streamed live on Grambling State’s YouTube Channel.
Louisiana State Senator Cleo Fields will serve as the speaker for today’s commencement exercises.