This weekend marks one of those occasions that only comes about a few times a year, a time where thousands of people all at once make the leap from one phase in their lives to another.
More than 2,000 people in Baton Rouge alone shared in that experience Friday as LSU graduated 1,672 students and Southern University graduated 508 students during respective fall commencement ceremonies.
In south Baton Rouge, LSU celebrated a well-known public policy watchdog with an honorary doctorate degree for his efforts to strengthen higher education over a number of years. In north Baton Rouge, at least one Southern student fulfilled a promise to himself just a few months after suffering a setback while pursuing a longtime dream.
LaQuinton Evans began his career at Southern in the fall of 2008 as a freshman interested in engineering and a speedy wide receiver on the Jaguars football team. Four years later, after shifting his interest to psychology, Evans left school 12 hours short of a degree to pursue a National Football League career with the Tennessee Titans.
“I got a call from the Titans … they were intrigued by my speed,” Evans said.
With his eligibility to play college football having ended, Evans signed a free agent contract with the Titans, and spent the summer with the team attending meetings, watching game film and learning their offense.
After he survived the intensity of an NFL offseason workout program, late summer training camp and three preseason games, the Titans released Evans in September.
“I came back to school immediately after I got cut. My first objective in coming to school was always to get an education and my degree,” Evans said Thursday. “Besides, I had, like, 12 credit-hours left. Who wouldn’t come back for 12 hours?”
After earning his psychology degree Friday, Evans said he will give the NFL another shot in the spring. If that doesn’t work out, he said he plans to go back to school to pursue an engineering degree.
Across town, LSU celebrated its graduates with a number of small ceremonies. Among the 103 students graduating with honors and the 13 students recognized for having graduated with the highest undergraduate grade-point averages, was Ed Steimel. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters.
Guidelines for awarding such degrees include a person’s character, distinction and their substantial contributions to the development of the LSU System or the nation.
As the founder of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, or LABI, Steimel helped establish the Louisiana Quality Education Trust Fund, a pot of money set aside to aid higher education and public schools. Louisiana’s public colleges and universities have since benefitted from the fund to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars used for research and development and for establishing thousands of endowed professorships.
Later as director of development for LSU’s College of Engineering, Steimel was credited with raising more than $58 million from private sources to support the school.