More than 1,300 graduates from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette converged Friday on the Cajundome to receive the degrees that transformed them from student to alumni.

“As you move into the next stage of your life, I encourage you to take that same sense of hope, optimism and tenacity that has brought you to this day and carry it with you for the rest of your life in whatever you choose to do,” UL-Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie told the graduates in opening the fall 2014 commencement ceremony.

Former Louisiana poet laureate and professor emeritus at UL-Lafayette Darrell Bourque challenged the students to think independently, change society for the better and “fiercely be your best self.”

“Today is a milestone day for you, and it is a milestone day for us, too, because we will forever be linked together in common purpose,” Bourque said. “The degree conferred on you today sets you free to do your work in the world but it is also a certificate of trust and a certificate of faith from us to you.”

As for some of those making the trek across the stage, the final semester is still a blur.

“I didn’t think it would happen this fast,” nursing graduate Garrett Darbonne said. “Everything kind of flew by this semester. I remember starting in August thinking that it would never get here.”

Darbonne is one of eight Outstanding Graduates chosen by UL-Lafayette’s Alumni Association, representing the College of Nursing.

He plans to work in the intensive care unit of Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, and perhaps apply to medical school after gaining some real-world experience.

Fellow Outstanding Graduate Alexandra Dardar, from the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration, echoed Darbonne’s enthusiasm.

“It’s nice to see all your hard work pay off,” she said.

Dardar was announced as the Overall Outstanding Graduate during Friday’s ceremony. As for Dardar’s most memorable accomplishment in her tenure at the university, the accounting graduate said, “I’d have to say making homecoming court. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience and I honestly didn’t think I’d make it.”

Dardar said she’s going to work as an accountant, and then go to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.

During the ceremony, the university’s three summa cum laude graduates were also recognized for their achievement of 4.0 grade-point averages:

Charlotte Theresa Bordelon, a finance major, received a bachelor of science degree from the Moody College of Business Administration. She is the daughter of Jude Bordelon, of Lafayette.

Taylor Denee McCaulley, an English major, received a bachelor of arts degree from the College of Liberal Arts. She is the daughter of Randy and Melinda McCaulley, of Ville Platte.

April Kristine Lemelle, who majored in elementary education, received a bachelor of science from the College of Education. She is the daughter of Paul and Cheryl Lemelle, of Lafayette.