College graduations around Baton Rouge

More than 4,400 students in Baton Rouge are donning caps and gowns for the walk across the graduation stage, a symbolic act representing their transition from one phase of their lives to another.

On Thursday, LSU honored 3,735 graduates hailing from 59 Louisiana parishes and representing 45 states.

Southern holds its commencement ceremonies for 714 graduates at 10:30 a.m. Friday, in the F.G. Clark Activity Center on the north Baton Rouge campus. Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson is the commencement speaker at Southern.

At LSU on Thursday, graduates ranging in age from 20 to 78 years old packed into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the south Baton Rouge campus and heard from ABC News political correspondent Cokie Roberts, who served as this year’s commencement speaker. On Friday, individual colleges will hold diploma ceremonies at various times and places around the LSU Baton Rouge campus.

Near the start of her remarks, Roberts applauded LSU for enrolling more black and Hispanic students last fall than at any other time in school history. She called that achievement a testament to LSU’s commitment to make sure all Louisiana residents have access to a “tremendous education.”

Last fall’s black student enrollment of 3,054 students eclipsed the previous high of 3,035 set in 2002 but represents a 200-student increase over the prior year, according to LSU’s Office of Budget and Planning. LSU also saw Hispanic enrollment rise by 156 students this past fall, increasing to 1,305 students from the previous high of 1,149 set the prior year.

Roberts spent much of her speech encouraging graduates to think about public service.

“Right now, we need the services of talented people like you. We need you to lead the way,” Roberts said. “Use your very valuable education for public service.”

People can’t expect the country’s political or social climate to improve if “good people don’t participate,” she added.

Roberts also implored the crowd to vote regularly and to tune out the “shrill voices” that drown out critical thought in the political process.

“You bear the responsibility,” she said.

Thursday’s graduation marks, perhaps, the last one to be presided over by interim LSU System President and Chancellor William Jenkins.

Jenkins, who has served three stints as the Baton Rouge chancellor and twice as system president, is expected to step away as an administrator in July.

LSU honored Jenkins for his 25 years of service with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, recognizing him for twice coming out of retirement to take on leadership roles at the university.

Standing with his wife, Peggy, the man who often describes himself as “just an old country veterinarian,” said LSU is a part of who he is.

The honorary doctorate “will always remind us of being a part of you, and all of you a part of us,” he said.