U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus encouraged LSU’s newest crop of graduates to “do something bigger than yourself” as they head out into the real world.

Mabus, the 75th secretary of the Navy and leader of America’s Navy and Marine Corps, was the keynote speaker during LSU’s main spring commencement ceremony Thursday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Individual colleges will have separate events Friday to celebrate their graduates.

“At the end of this life, the things that are going to matter are the lives you’ve touched, the futures you’ve made brighter, the people you’ve helped,” Mabus told The Advocate of his advice during an interview before the ceremony.

“They don’t have to join the Marine Corps, though we need them to, but maybe the Peace Corps or just small things. A teacher who stays after class to help a student. A nurse who stays after their shift is done to be with a patient. Mowing the yard for your neighbor because they’re too old to do it themselves.”

Mabus said he was honored to participate in the event.

“LSU is one of the great educational institutions — great in terms of academics, great in terms of the support and people they’ve sent to the military,” he said.

LSU’s 6,367-student graduating class this year is record-breaking in several ways. It’s the largest in the university’s history and also has more African-American, Hispanic and female students than ever before — a distinction that Mabus noted as being reflective of a commitment to diversity.

“We are stronger for our diversity,” he said.

LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said he thinks the figures show LSU is working to bridge the achievement gap for minorities and women.

“Closing the achievement gap is a challenge for this nation and for Louisiana,” Alexander said. “It indicates that we are succeeding in facing these challenges.”

The number of African-American graduates this year reflects a 10.5 percent increase over last year, while the university saw a 10.1 percent increase in Hispanic graduates and 3.5 increase in female graduates.

Alexander said he’s less concerned with the job market and opportunities than he is about the skills that LSU is providing to its graduates. “They have so few options if they never go to college or don’t finish,” Alexander said.

Several of Friday’s diploma ceremonies will have keynote speakers. They include:

  • University of Nevada-Reno Provost Kevin Carman, who is the former dean of the LSU College of Science, at the College of Science ceremony at 9 a.m. in the Maddox Fieldhouse.
  • Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture professor emeritus Suzanne Turner at the College of Art & Design ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Student Union Theater.
  • Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge President and CEO Eric Holowacz at the College of Music & Dramatic Arts ceremony at noon in the Bo Campbell Auditorium of the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes.
  • Pennington Biomedical Research Center Executive Director Dr. William Cefalu at the College of Agriculture ceremony at 12:30 p.m. in the Maddox Fieldhouse.
  • Retired Director and Executive Vice President of ExxonMobil Harry Longwell, a 1963 LSU petroleum engineering graduate, at the College of Engineering ceremony at 12:30 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
  • TV personality and entrepreneur Rene Syler at the Manship School of Mass Communication ceremony at 1:30 p.m. in the Student Union Theater.
  • Kinesiology graduate Kaitlyn Salzer at the College of Human Sciences & Education ceremony at 4 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.