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Louisiana Sen. Ben Nevers Speaks, 772 Students Receive Degrees at LSU's 275th Commencement

Louisiana State Sen. Ben Nevers delivered the commencement address, and 772 students received degrees at LSU's 275th commencement exercises on Friday, Aug. 5.

LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement Eddy Perez/University Relations

"The future of this great nation depends on education," said Nevers, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and has shepherded numerous pieces of legislation promoting postsecondary education.

Nevers said that knowledge is power, and power is knowledge, but "what you do with that knowledge is going to determine what the future holds, not only for our nation, but for Louisiana."

Nevers cautioned the graduates that there will be failure in their lives but said that they need to learn from failures, take each as an opportunity and watch for doors to be opened afterwards.

"Failure is not always a bad thing," Nevers said. "If I had not failed many times in my life, I assure you, I would not be standing here before you."

Nevers said that it was quite an honor and privilege to speak at commencement and thanked LSU Chancellor Michael Martin for the opportunity.

"I tell you there's not a better university in the United States of America or world than Louisiana State University. There's not a better stadium on a Saturday night in the whole United States of America than Tiger Stadium. There's not a better state, in my opinion, to live, work and play than the great state of Louisiana and today, we're going to leave this place, and we're going to work, and we're going to build a better place for our children, a better place for our families and a better place for our friends to live, work and play," Nevers said.

LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement Eddy Perez/University Relations

Of the 772 graduates, 265 earned master's degrees and 97 received doctorate degrees. Fourteen students graduated with honors, including Meredith Caitlin Pugh of Baton Rouge, who received the University Medal for graduating with the highest undergraduate grade-point average.

The August 2011 graduating class represented 50 Louisiana parishes, 38 U.S. states and 33 foreign countries. Women made up 49.09 percent of the graduates and men made up 50.91 percent. The oldest graduate was 76 and two graduates were the youngest at 20.

Martin presided over the ceremony, and Laura Leach, member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, conferred degrees. Kevin L. Cope, LSU Faculty Senate president, served as mace bearer. The invocation and benediction were given by Clint Mitchell, associate pastor at University Presbyterian Church. The "Star-Spangled Banner" and LSU alma mater were performed by Amy Parker, doctoral student in the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts, and the processional and recessional music was performed by the Norem Brass Quintet.

Pugh was recognized as the sole University Medalist during the ceremony. She graduated from the LSU College of Science with a Bachelor of Science degree in biological science.

While a student at LSU, Pugh worked at TransGenRx, a bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing company housed in the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center on LSU's campus. In addition, she volunteered in the emergency room at Our Lady of the Lake hospital.

LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement Eddy Perez/University Relations

Pugh would like to follow in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, Dr. Paul Naccari, and become a doctor. She applied to medical school in June and hopes to begin her studies in August 2012. Pugh credits her career choice to her grandfather's passion for medicine and his dedication to others. Naccari, a graduate of LSU's School of Medicine in New Orleans, was a family practitioner who specialized in occupational medicine. He retired after more than 50 years of practice in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home.

"I remember how worried he was about whether his patients would be able to contact him after the storm even though he had lost his own house," said Pugh. "His hard work was truly driven by his compassion for others, and his compassion and dedication truly inspire me. I know that if I am accepted into medical school, he will be so proud! He has always been and will continue to be my role model in life."

During summer commencement, three students graduated from the LSU Honors College – James Dewitt Stowe of New Orleans and Kelsey Leigh Daroca of Mandeville with College Honors, and John Thornton Gilmer of Baton Rouge with Upper Division Honors Distinction.

As part of the commencement ceremony, Capt. Daniel Struzik, associate professor of naval science at Southern University, recognized Duane Blank, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps during a separate commissioning ceremony at 7:30 a.m. at the LSU Memorial Tower. Blank, previously a gunnery sergeant in the United States Marines, participated in the Naval ROTC program at Southern University. He will receive additional military officer ship training at the Basic School in Quantico, Va.

LSU's 275th Commencement           LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement LSU's 275th Commencement Eddy Perez/University Relations

Danielle LaRock of Virginia Beach, Va., a finalist for the 2011 Presidential Management Fellows, or PMF, program, graduated with a Master of Science degree in environmental science from the LSU School of the Coast & Environment. LaRock, along with LSU alumni Dana Tumblin, a native of St. Rose, and Keith Courville, a native of New Iberia, was named a finalist earlier this year for the prestigious and highly competitive program administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

A posthumous Master of Library and Information Science degree was awarded to Peter J. Longeway. His wife and granddaughter accepted the degree on his behalf during the ceremony.

A number of LSU student-athletes graduated Aug. 5, including Bennie Brazell, who was both a football and track national champion and a finalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2004 Olympics in Athens; Travis Daniels, a member of LSU's national champion football team in 2003 currently playing for the Kansas City Chiefs; Ben Wilkerson, a member of LSU's national champion football team in 2003 and 2004 Rimington Trophy co-recipient, given to the nation's best center, received a master's degree; Kenyanna Wilson, national champion in the 4x100-meter relay and member of LSU's 2008 Outdoor Track National Championship; Lauren DeGirolamo, member of four SEC Western Division Championship teams (2006-2009) and SEC Championship team (2009) in volleyball, received a master's degree; Angela Bensend, member of four SEC Western Division Championship teams (2007-2010) and SEC Championship team (2009) in volleyball; and Kannon Betzen, who holds LSU swimming records in the 200 and 800 freestyle relays.

A complete list of graduates and honor graduates will be available online Aug. 5 at LSU's commencement website. This site can be accessed through LSU's home page at www.lsu.edu or directly at www.lsu.edu/commencement.