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It took 70 years for Dr. Norman Francis to get his wish of a degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The Xavier University president received an honorary doctorate in higher education leadership from UL Lafayette during Graduate School commencement ceremonies on Saturday.
Francis told the group of graduates a story of how when he was just a boy growing up in Lafayette, he explained to his mother that he wanted to attend UL Lafayette.
“ My mother told me I couldn’t go to that school yet, but if I worked hard and studied hard, things might change,” said Francis. “It took me 70 years, but I’m here and I will get a degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.”
Francis, the longest-serving president of a private university in the nation, is a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and was named by his peers as one of the 100 most effective college and university leaders. He served as the keynote speaker for Saturday’s commencement.
Calling the ceremony a ‘sacred event,’ he told graduates “you have the capability to make a difference in your world and your future.” He called on students to become leaders in their worlds and hoped they would find a ‘willingness to serve” those around them.
“ Be the change agents. Be the leaders of the future,” Francis said.
He also helped honor his long-time friend and colleague UL Lafayette President Ray Authement, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Authement is the longest-serving president of a public university in the nation.
“ Ray Authement, you are a remarkable man and a visionary,” Francis said. “You have done your job well.”
The academic deans from each of UL Lafayette’s colleges presented Authement with a commemorative scroll.
“ Throughout your presidency, you have never wavered in your belief in the primacy of academics,” said UL Lafayette Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Steve Landry on behalf of the deans. “You have challenged each of us by the high standards you have set and by your continually rising expectations. You have led by example, refusing to allow the university to be defined by its limitations.
“ We, too, commend you for your ability to dream of a future that has come true. It has been a privilege to be part of your team.”
More than 1,200 students received degrees during ceremonies throughout campus on Saturday.