Graduation ceremonies serve as reminders of the vital role colleges and universities play in preparing the next generations of civic and business leaders, entrepreneurs, health professionals, scientists and educators. Since the 11th century, these culminating educational events have signified to society that our students have mastered an academic field of study.

It’s always a privilege to witness these special events — to watch our students take the step from student to alumni and to see pride on the faces of their family members. As a community, we should celebrate the accomplishments of every student who reaches this milestone, since their success will reap economic and civic benefits for our entire society.

While this medium doesn’t allow me to list the individual accomplishments of the nearly 6,000 students who worked hard to receive their degrees from LSU this year, it does allow me to call attention to a few significant graduation-related highlights from Louisiana’s flagship university.

This year, we witnessed our largest-ever African American graduating class, which is especially significant as we simultaneously celebrated the 50th anniversary of the legal end of segregation. In fact, we were able to recognize members of the class of 1964 who were the first African Americans to attend LSU ­— several of whom were the trailblazers who legally petitioned for entry to the university.

This year also saw LSU’s highest African American graduation rate and our largest African American enrollment ever. In addition, the 2014 graduating class had a record-breaking number of both female and Hispanic graduates.

What does all this really mean? It means we’re bringing in more students from more diverse backgrounds, supporting them throughout their academic careers, and making sure more of them reach their graduation goals. Why is it important? From an individual perspective, finishing a college education has never been more important than it is today. The disparities in lifelong earnings between college and high school graduates – or those who dropped out of college — can be as significant as $1 million.

From a societal perspective, our recent graduates will be more likely to be civically engaged and to become revenue producers for our communities, while being less prone to unemployment and health risks such as smoking, obesity, and diabetes.

Additionally, evidence clearly shows that cities with higher education institutions and larger numbers of college graduates attract more new economy jobs and innovative industries than other locations.

Therefore, we all have a great deal to celebrate when our LSU students — along with others throughout Louisiana – graduate from our higher education institutions.

F. King Alexander

president, LSU

Baton Rouge