LSU awards degrees at spring graduation

LSU’s spring graduates were encouraged Friday to bounce back from struggles, find their passions and revel in the unexpected.

LSU’s colleges handed out diplomas to their graduates in individual commencement ceremonies across campus, featuring several guest speakers who have succeeded in fields to which students can relate. A bigger but less personal ceremony, featuring U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, was held the night before.

Harry Longwell, the retired executive vice president and director of ExxonMobil Corp., told graduates of the College of Engineering Friday that their diplomas are their “ticket to ride.” He said titles aren’t as important as finding their own “success story.”

“You must be adaptable to constant change,” he said.

Eric Holowacz, the CEO of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge who spoke to the College of Music and Dramatic Arts, said he felt unsure on his own graduation day, leaving the University of South Carolina with degrees in art history and English literature.

“I had no idea what I was going to do,” he said.

Holowacz told graduates that success is a combination of luck, hard work and timing.

“It may sound a bit hackney for a commencement speech, but the next 10 years are important,” he said. “What you do when you walk off this stage will define who you are in life.”

His speech was peppered with anecdotes about art, including the story of American artist Dale Chihuly’s unlikely quest to seek out glass orbs from a Japanese island, which inspired his Niijima Floats series of glass art.

“The unexpected gives meaning,” Holowacz said.

René Syler, a former co-host of CBS News’ “The Early Show,” sprinkled her speech to the Manship School of Mass Communication with comedy.

Syler, who was fired by CBS in 2006 and underwent a preventive double mastectomy shortly thereafter, urged students to be resilient.

“The life you plan is not the life you lead,” she said.

She told graduates that the popular lubricant WD-40 got its name because it was the 40th formula tried.

“Failure is not the opposite of success. It is a stepping stone to success,” she said.

At several ceremonies, LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander asked how many honorees were first-generation graduates in their family. “This is why we’re a public university, serving a public mission,” Alexander said.

He encouraged engineering graduates to serve their communities and make the world “a better place for humanity.”

“Don’t just build a bridge ... build a bridge to the future,” he said.

Alexander also repeatedly noted the record-setting status of the 2014 class. It’s the university’s largest graduation, and the 2014 class has the highest numbers of black, Hispanic and female graduates.

Amy Pinner, a Michigan native who received her degree in mechanical engineering, said graduation didn’t feel real to her until she heard “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“Five years later, I’m here,” she said.

She’ll be moving to Houston next month to work for Cameron Corp.

Only about 20 percent of the College of Engineering graduates were women — a fact that was on Pinner’s mind. She was one of just eight women in mechanical engineering, which she said prompted her to play up her gender for graduation day.

Wearing sky-high iridescent blue and purple pumps, Pinner had elaborately decorated her graduation cap with glittery purple and gold cogs that would spin at the press of a button hidden in her gown. In all, she had more than 100 gears affixed to her mortarboard. Several dangled off the the sides of the cap, creating the appearance of a cog crown floating around her face.

“Go big or go home,” she said.

Pinner said she wanted to become an engineer to help people.

Her father, who had kidney cancer, died when Pinner was 9 years old. He spent the last two years of his life paraplegic.

“I wanted to dedicate my life to making the life easier for paraplegics and quadriplegics,” she said.

In her last year of college, she teamed up with three other engineering seniors to design a wheelchair prototype to reduce pressure sores.

John Raymond, a pastor from Slidell, was there to see his daughter, Monica, receive her mass communications degree.

He carried a large bouquet of yellow and purple flowers for her.

“I am very thankful she was able to attend a quality educational institution like LSU,” Raymond said. “I’m very excited and very thankful for LSU.”

Monica Raymond wants to go into public relations, but her father said she doesn’t yet have a job lined up.

In the meantime, he said he expects his daughter will help out with the family’s church and its radio station.

He said he’s not worried about her, because she has a “go get ’em” attitude.

“Mass communications is the perfect thing for her,” he said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.