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Strain encourages ULM graduates to pursue their dreams

Published May 09, 2015

The University of Louisiana at Monroe’s annual spring Commencement Ceremony was held today in Fant-Ewing Coliseum in front of adoring family and friends, and ULM faculty, staff, and administration. Over 730 students earned degrees.


Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.

Strain’s ultimate message was for students to pursue their dreams, get involved, and appreciate those who helped them along the way.

“Today we honor you and your accomplishments,” he said. “Today is a testament to your dedication, your hard work, and your sheer determination—an honorable pursuit of higher education that will forever benefit yourself, your families, your community, your state, and your nation. Today is a testament to your instructors, your teachers, your friends and mentors. Today is also a testament to your parents and all others who have struggled, given and sacrificed so that you might stand here today.”

Strain also urged students to understand both politics and economics as they stand to make decisions for the next generation.

He said, “In your minds you question the issues of the day; the economy, our political system, and the tensions and conflicts of the world. Each generation is defined by the issues of their time. Not so much by the issue itself, but by its resolution. Today, you enter the fray. Today along with life, love, and family, you must now embrace economics and politics.”

The state budget was also addressed, with Strain stressing the importance of legislation and transformation.

“Here in Louisiana, with the budget bleak, a looming deficit, and despair in the halls of government, the only thing constant is change,” he said. “In 2000, we had a $1 billion deficit with a $9.3 billion budget. Today, it is $1.6 billion in a $25 billion budget. What a great opportunity, yes, an opportunity to set right the course of the state. It is time for leadership. Anything less is unacceptable.”

Strain concluded his speech speaking of the legacies of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, and reminding graduates to push toward their ultimate goal.

“The American dream—it is here, right here, touch it; embrace it; enjoy it. Watch your children grow, touch all that is good, fulfill your destiny. Long life, great opportunity, unprecedented discovery, unimaginable technology—your future awaits.”

Several honor graduates were recognized during the ceremony. They are designated as summa cum laude (3.900-4.000), magna cum laude (3.750-3.899) and cum laude (3.500-3.749).

Four top graduates were also honored during the ceremony. These students maintained a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) throughout their college careers.

Top Graduates:

Kristina Ok, the daughter of E.J. and Tae Ok, received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. She is a native of Monroe.

Kristi Plunkett, the daughter of Paula and Adam Plunkett, received a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education and teaching. She is a native of Pioneer.

Courtnie Pollard, the daughter of Christa and Roger Pollard, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. She is a native of Jennings.

Erin Rizzo, the daughter of Dea and James Rizzo, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. She is a native of Bossier City.


ULM President Dr. Nick J. Bruno continued his tradition of recognizing graduates with unique and inspirational stories by giving attendees background on students from ULM’s online programs, graduating student-athletes, and those receiving degrees with honors.

Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks earned a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy through ULM’s online platform, eULM. Hanks traveled to Monroe from Utah where she owns and operates a private family therapy clinic.

Dr. Ahmad Abdelkarim earned an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction through eULM. Abdelkarim currently serves as an assistant professor and chair of the Department of Orthodontics at the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry.

Maroutcha Mouawad earned both a B.S. in biology, and a B.S. in mathematics. Mouawad earned the degrees in less than three years. Mouawad was also a magna cum laude graduate.

Amy Matherne earned a B.A. in music. Matherne is a former Miss ULM, and was a cum laude graduate. She will pursue a graduate degree in speech-language pathology at ULM in the fall.

Evan Sims, Marvin Williams, Chinedu Amajoyi, and Tylor Ongwae were recognized as the graduating seniors from the record-setting 2014-2015 ULM men’s basketball team. Sims earned a B.G.S; Williams earned a B.A. in communication; Amajoyi earned a B.A. in communication; and Ongwae earned a B.B.A. in business management.

For more information and archived video of the ceremony, visit https://www.ulm.edu/commencement/

To view the complete list of graduates, visit Spring 2015 Degree Candidate Listing

For photos from the ceremony visit http://photos.ulm.edu/

More about Comissioner Strain:

A native of Covington, Strain earned a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Louisiana State University in 1983. Strain and his wife Susan—also a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine—own and operate the Claiborne Hill Veterinary Hospital in Covington.

In 1999, Strain was elected to the first of two terms as State Representative, where he served on the Agriculture Committee and chaired the Legislative Rural Caucus. He was twice named Legislator of the Year by the St. Tammany Parish Alliance for Good Government. In 2003, the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine presented Strain its Distinguished Alumni Award, and he was inducted into the LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction in May 2010.

In August 2009, Strain was awarded the Future Farmers of America’s highest national award, the Honorary American Degree, and was named Conservationist of the Year in January 2012, and Veterinarian of the Year in 2013.

He recently completed terms as president of SUSTA (the Southern United States Trade Association) and SASDA (the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture), and is the second vice president of NASDA (National Association of State Departments of Agriculture). He is also the chair of the NASDA Animal and Plant Industries Committee, and he holds a commission from the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Strain took the oath of office for his second four-year term as Louisiana’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry on January 9, 2012.