Spring graduation substitute: Jefferson steps in as GSU’s second-day commencement speaker

(Photo of GSU graduation speaker Patrick Jefferson by CARLTON HAMLIN)

Press release

In a rousing commencement speech, Louisiana state Rep. Patrick Jefferson (District 11) told Grambling State University graduates Thursday to be ready for challenges and for opportunities to shine.

“I’m here to remind you, very briefly, that our deepest fear is not that you are inadequate for Grambling State University has prepared you,” Jefferson said. “ Grambling State University has educated you and you are ready to go into the opulent university of life. You are ready to go and make it better.”

He accepted the invitation to be commencement speaker for the second day of GSU spring commencement exercises with little notice after unforeseen circumstances caused the original speaker — state Sen. Cleo Fields — to cancel.

Jefferson used the situation to show graduates that they must be ready for whatever comes their way in life. He also encouraged them to not be stagnant but to continue to develop goals.

Quoting Benjamin Elijah Mays, a prominent educator, minister, and civil rights activist, Jefferson said, “It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim, is sin.

“Within the Class of 2021 could be” the next president of Grambling State University, pedagogical giants who will teach the next generation, doctors, social workers or ministers who are prepared to carry it to heights unknown. You are called to shine. Just be ready, be prepared and do it.”

GSU hosted the second of two ceremonies Thursday at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center for graduates and their families. The Class of 2021 boasts 461 graduates — 316 from Louisiana and 145 from out-of-state (including 25 from other countries).

The class includes Alexis White, the first graduate of the university’s cybersecurity program; Dale Major, the first student to participate in a concurrent program that GSU entered with Louisiana Tech University, and fraternal triplets Stevie, Steven, and Stephon Wilson.

During commencement, Steven Wilson (SGA president 2019-2020), Ashley Dabney, Miss Grambling State University 2020-2021, and Milton Jackson (SGA president 2020-2021) each received the President’s Leadership Award.

GSU President Rick Gallot told a socially distanced and masked audience that he was grateful to government and health officials for their guidance in allowing the graduation ceremony to be held.

“Our ceremony today is a little different from what we’re accustomed to and certainly not what you had envisioned as a freshman,” he said, adding “We do this because we — your supporters, teachers, and family –- know that this is not an end but a beginning. We take pride in knowing your future is bright because you’ve already made one of the best decisions anyone can make – to invest in yourselves and to see your commitment through to the finish.”

Family and friends clapped and cheered in celebration as each graduate marched to be honored.

Alverio Woodfork said he was glad that he has been able to finish what he started.

“I’ve been out of school for five years and I came back and finished my degree in one year,” he said. The general studies major with a concentration in juvenile behavior and a minor in psychology said he had been working in retail. He credits a GSU economics professor, Dr. Matthew Uwakonye, for encouraging him to return to college.

“(Uwakonye’s) words were, ‘This job is just a job but go to school, and you can have a career’,” Woodfork said.

Alaina Pacquette, from Dominica, graduated with a double major in chemistry and biology. She has a job offer with Eli Lilly and Company and will be working as a chemist.

“Ultimately I hope to get my doctorate in environmental chemistry and I hope to find sustainable options for manufacturing,” Pacquette said.

She said her college experience has been a positive one.

“I’m happy to have come to Grambling,” Pacquette said. “I don’t think I would have gotten this experience anywhere else.”

Chari Peter, also of Dominica, majored in chemistry, math, and physics. “I’m thankful for the experience and for the lessons I’ve learned,” she said. “I’m looking forward to continuing my studies in graduate school in chemistry at the University of Rochester.”

Rosetta Thomas, of Shreveport , received her degree in child development/early literacy. The mother of twins saw them graduate from Grambling State in 2019.

“They inspired and encouraged me,” she said. “I’m proud of myself and thankful for all my professors, friends, family, and church members.”

Thomas said her dream is to open a childcare center for special needs children.

Proud parents, grandparents, and siblings traveled from North Las Vegas to see Major graduate.

He made history at GSU as the first student to participate in a concurrent degree program with GSU and Louisiana Tech. Since fall 2020, he has been enrolled at Louisiana Tech working on a master of science in molecular science and nanotechnology while completing his senior year at Grambling.

“I’m proud of him. He’s been a warrior through it all,” his father Dale Major Sr. said, explaining that his son juggled a challenging course load.

As she waited for her daughter to get her photo taken, Kimberly Robins said, “I’m a proud mom.” The 1993 GSU graduate said her daughter, Kimberly Mears, received her degree in biology. Because of the experience of working as an athletic trainer with the GSU football team, she said Kimberly decided she wanted to be a trainer in the National Football League.

“I’ve been around sports my whole life and there are not a lot of African-American women trainers in the NFL,” she said. “I want to be among the first.”

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