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December 18, 1999

ULM Graduates First Class

The first class of students to receive degrees from the University of Louisiana at Monroe was honored in Fall Commencement Ceremonies Saturday at Ewing Coliseum.

ULM changed its name from Northeast Louisiana University in August, making the 677 students conferred degrees Saturday the first to have ULM on their diploma. The 677 graduates marks the largest Fall graduating class in the history of the University, which was established in 1931.

Bobby Jindal, President of the University of Louisiana System, and widely regarded as one of the dynamic young leaders in Louisiana, gave the keynote address. Jindal pulled from his own college experience to advise the ULM graduates.

"In college, once I stopped worrying about failure, I found out that I could do things that I thought I couldn't do," Jindal said. "My message to you is congratulations to the Class of '99 on getting this far, there are many obstacles.

"Don't be afraid of risk, afraid of failures," Jindal said. "Take those chances and you will succeed more than just today. You will succeed throughout your life."

The University of Louisiana System, of which ULM is a member, is one of the largest in the U.S., managing eight of Louisiana's four-year universities. The System currently awards more than half of the public higher education degrees in Louisiana, enrolls about 80,000 students, employs more than 4,000 faculty and support staff, and administers operating budgets of more than $450 million.

In his first year as System President, Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar and Baton Rouge native, has been highly visible and a key voice in the state on higher education issues. Shortly after Jindal's appointment in May he proposed a nine-point strategic plan to promote academic excellence throughout the System. Jindal began working with the universities to implement three programs:

1) streamlining bureaucracy,

2) promoting consistency among the campuses;

3) promoting academic excellence through the strategic which includes "unique areas of excellence."

ULM President Lawson L. Swearingen, Jr., said that Jindal has enjoyed success because he wastes few opportunities.

"American educator, entrepreneur and philanthropist Roger Babson once said, 'Let him who would enjoy a good future waste none of his present.' It is obvious to those of us who work with him that President Jindal is not wasting any of his -- or our -- present," Swearingen said. "Because of his energy, his vision, and his extraordinary leadership, our System is moving rapidly from being a loose confederation of individual institutions toward becoming a truly comprehensive institution and System enjoying national and international recognition."

Swearingen also noted the significance of this graduating class during his remarks.

"Seated before us is the Fall Class of 1999 -- an historic milestone for ULM as this Class represents both the last Class of this century and the first graduating Class of the University of Louisiana at Monroe," Swearingen said. "In this, now our 68th year, the University of Louisiana at Monroe enjoys an unprecedented reputation for excellence."

The ULM President pointed out the strength of the ULM programs and the success that students were achieving within those programs.

"According to the most recent data available, 97 percent of those academic programs eligible for accreditation are accredited," Swearingen said. "Not only are the programs accredited, but our students are succeeding within those programs. According to a report issued by the Louisiana Board of Regents just this past month, ULM ranks first among open admissions institutions not only within our System, but also within the State of Louisiana, in graduation rates for public, four-year institutions."

Swearingen awarded degrees to 177 students who finished with top honors. A total of 30 graduated summa cum laude (3.8-4.0 GPA); 56 magna cum laude (3-5-3.79 GPA); and 91 cum laude (3.2-3.49 GPA).

Farmerville's Cynthia Jewel Sims, a social work major in the College of Liberal Arts, claimed "Top Graduate" honors with a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade-point average. She is the 67th of more than 50,000 students in the history of the University to have ever graduated with a perfect 4.0.

Two students received advanced graduate degrees, West Monroe's Peggy Rhymes Wheelis, Ed.D, and Pramila Singh of Monroe, Ph.D.

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