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May 19, 2007

ULM Spring 2007 graduates receive diplomas

The University of Louisiana at Monroe awarded 650 diplomas to 645 students at the 2007 Spring Commencement Saturday, May 19 in Fant-Ewing Coliseum. The honor graduates numbered 119.
District Attorney Robert W. Levy of the Third Judicial District Court, representing Lincoln and Union Parishes, delivered the commencement address. He earned his Juris Doctorate from Louisiana State University School of Law in 1974.
Levy, a member of the Louisiana Board of Regents, began by acknowledging the excitement generated by the graduates, made especially intense because this is one journey that they will not venture back from.
“So today, as you sit here contemplating your future, you should indeed be excited because the journey you begin today will never end,” Levy said. “The places that you go will only be limited by the loftiness of the goals you set, and continually reset, for yourselves.”
He also congratulated President James E. Cofer, Sr. on his fifth anniversary as the university’s head and on a job well done. “Dr. Cofer has seen this university through some very positive changes during his tenure as president, from accreditation issues and financial challenges, to academic reorganization, to badly needed upgrades to the ULM physical facilities. He even oversaw a mascot change. I imagine that is about as full a plate of challenges for the first five years as one campus president has ever to had to face.”
Levy asserted that the graduates’ hard work and perseverance made them members of a special class of society. He quoted statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau stating that only 28 percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher; Louisiana has an even lower rate of 21 percent. The degree bestows advantages—among them a much greater earning potential ($52,000 versus $27,000 per year for a high school graduate).
“Additionally, you will have, by far, more job stability and job choices,” Levy continued. “In short, you are about to become an economic engine. Research also shows that you, as a college graduate, will be healthier and live longer; you will be a smarter consumer; you will be more likely to vote and to participate in government, civic and community organizations; and you will be able to adapt more easily to changing technologies and trends. Other long term advantages are that your children are much more likely to attend college and to enjoy a much higher quality of life.”
The new graduates, he concluded, should be proud of their entry into this select group and of the alma mater that provided it—the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Levy stated that the most important message he could impart to the graduates is that “as a member of a select group, you now have the power to make positive changes to your society.” He asserted that they could become members of Margaret Mead’s “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens.” He said that they could especially accomplish this by demanding more education for more of our citizens, at every level.
He contrasted the graduates’ achievements with the average person he deals with on a day-to-day basis in his profession as a district attorney. Those individuals have often failed in society, he said, and most of them never achieved a high school degree, much less anything more advanced. “I have seen, first hand, that the answers to our social problems will not be found in the courtroom, but in the classroom; and not obtained by incarceration, but by education.”
Levy focused attention on the fact that Louisiana has one of the lowest education achievement rates in the United States, but absolutely has the highest incarceration rate. “We simply cannot afford that, socially or economically.” He pointed out that the tax dollars spent on prisoners do not come back to society, but that every dollar invested in higher education does not cost, and instead returns $5 to the state’s economy.
“It is obvious that investing in all education, Pre-K through 12, as well as all forms of postsecondary, and having more people gaining more education, is a way out for this country and particularly for this state.  By having higher educational achievement rates – which pays dividends – we will also have lower incarceration rates.  It is just good common sense.”
He mentioned that both former Gov. Mike Foster and current Gov. Kathleen Blanco have made education their top priorities. He said that Blanco has proposed the largest amount of state funding for education in almost three decades. In relation to university education alone, the budget now going through the state legislature calls for Louisiana institutions of higher learning to have the same level of funding provided on average by other southern states. Ultimately, Levy stated that it would provide a better quality of life for all of us.
“Each of you are a Louisiana success story, and you can make a real difference, a positive change, for the rest of Louisiana. Our future will look bright indeed if we can keep our bright and talented college graduates working in Louisiana, and for Louisiana, and to be not only individual economic engines, but agents for positive change by working to bring about enhanced educational attainment for all our citizens.”
He concluded his message to the graduates by reminding them that one person, and their actions, can indeed make a difference. Levy asked them to remember who had influenced them to get to this point. “Don’t forget to thank them, and don’t forget that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ We expect you, as individuals, together with others of this select group, to go now and make a positive change.”
There are two top 2007 spring graduates.
Andrew Arrant, a toxicology major from West Monroe, is the son of Travis and Karen Arrant. He graduates summa cum laude with a cumulative 4.0 grade point average.
Matthew Sewell is a double major in pharmacy and chemistry and will receive degrees for both. He is from Sterlington and is the son of Mike and Alma Sewell. He graduates summa cum laude with a cumulative 4.0 grade point average.      
Several honor graduates were recognized during the ceremonies. 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).

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