Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards used the twin themes of preparation and perseverance to encourage and exhort the University of New Orleans students who made up the fall 2018 graduating class to "change the world for the better.”
Edwards, who gave the keynote address during Friday’s ceremony at the UNO Lakefront Arena, told the graduates their achievements would help propel the state forward.
“As this university has taught you, the future isn’t something that you wait for; it’s something that you build,” Edwards said. “I’m confident that your education and experience at UNO has prepared you for success.”
When companies are considering relocating or expanding into Louisiana, Edwards said he’s always asked the same question: Does Louisiana have the skilled and educated workforce necessary for them to be successful.
"Well, I’m looking at about 700 of you right now,” Edwards said. “The answer is yes. You are the reason why funding of higher education is so vitally important ... you’re the reason why I’m so optimistic about our future because you are that future and from where I stand the future looks pretty dadgum bright!”
Edwards applauded the graduates, some of whom he said accomplished the feat while balancing the responsibilities of managing and supporting a family. He encouraged them to take time to savor the milestone.
“I commend you for the hard work that it takes to balance the responsibilities of being a parent and a student to manage family and work and everything that life throws at you,” Edwards said.
Kaylan Bankston of Slidell was one of those students. It took the single mother of three nearly a decade to first finish an associate degree and then earn a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in public health.
She took out loans and had to stop working because she could not afford daycare for her 4-year-old twin daughters, Bankston said. Her support system took a blow with the death of her father, who was diagnosed with cancer her first semester at UNO, she said.
“I have wanted to give up so many times during this journey, but I couldn’t allow that,” Bankston said. “I needed more so I could make the best life for my children. If it weren’t for God I would not have been able to have the strength I needed to keep moving forward.”
Inside Bankston’s graduation cap she placed a picture of her father. She decorated the top of her blue mortar board with silver glitter and a quote from one of his favorite Bible verses, Jeremiah 29:11, that speaks of God’s plan for believers.
“He would always quote that to me,” she said.
Edwards shared a story from his own graduation in 1988 from the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York. It was a cold and rainy day in May and the speaker for the graduation—which was held outside—was Vice President George H. W. Bush.
Edwards could not recall Bush’s remarks from that day, but his actions left an indelible mark.
“He stood in the driving rain to personally shake hands with and present diplomas to each of the 950 or so graduates who were there that day,” Edwards said.
A few months later, Bush was in New Orleans for the Republican National Convention and accepted his party’s nomination to campaign for president of the United States, Edwards said. In his acceptance speech Bush described the nation’s strength of diversity as a “thousand points of light.”
Edwards used that phrase Friday to describe the University’s graduating class and its diversity: Graduates from 27 states and 23 nations, from generations ranging from millennials to baby boomers; 56 percent women and 36 percent are first-generation college students.
“Graduates in the class of 2018, you are a brilliant, diverse community, filled with a thousand points of light,” Edwards said. “Just look at the fellow graduates seated around you ... This is what the American dream looks like. This is what Louisiana looks like and you’re a huge part of the reason I am so excited about the future of our great state.”
Edwards applauded the students for staying the course despite having to overcome obstacles, saying a “determined spirit is one of the greatest gifts you can take away from here.”
“I hope that you will use the knowledge that you have gained here and the experiences that you have built to be points of light no matter where your next chapter takes you,” Edwards said. “Now that you’ve been equipped with all of the tools it is your responsibility to change the world for the better.”