LAFAYETTE — Friday wasn’t Ryan Polotzola’s first time as a University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate.
About 10 years ago, he received his bachelor’s degree in management, and in 2011, decided to return to college to pursue a degree in accounting.
“I wanted to change careers,” Polotzola said Friday as he walked with his wife, Halli, to find his spot among the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration graduates.
His decision paid off.
“I start work full-time on Monday,” he said.
The university conferred more than 1,300 degrees during commencement ceremonies held Friday.
The definition of commencement — beginning — is filled with profound meaning for those 1,300 graduates prepared for their future, said François Delattre, the French Ambassador to the United States in his commencement speech to graduates.
“What a beautiful name for a day,” he told the graduates. “A day for a new beginning.”
As part of the general assembly commencement Friday, Delattre received an honorary doctorate degree in Francophone studies.
The diplomat recounted the strong ties between not only Louisiana and his home country, but with the United States in the fight for human rights and freedom. The two countries remain as allies and leaders for global reforms, Delattre said.
While motivating graduates to embrace the responsibilities before them to use their knowledge to better the world, Delattre also inserted humor into his speech, winning over the crowd of graduates and the families and friends there to share their special day.
“The word honorary is a nightmare to pronounce for a Frenchman,” he joked.
Delattre said the honorary degree holds special meaning for him since as France’s ambassador to Canada, he visited towns where Acadian ancestors lived before their exile and migration to Louisiana.
“We are members of the same Francophone living culture,” he told the crowd.
He credited the state for its strides in promoting the French culture and its immersion learning opportunities in schools.
“Bilingualism is the key to success in a global economy,” he told the graduates.
While doctoral degrees were conferred at the general assembly, each academic college held individual graduation ceremonies Friday to confer master’s and bachelor’s degrees.
A separate graduation ceremony was held in New Orleans for UL-Lafayette football players and student athletic staff members who were unable to attend graduation ceremonies on campus due to preparations for Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
During the Lafayette ceremony, university president Joseph Savoie encouraged the graduates to face their future with the same tenacity that carried them through to graduation day.
“Hold onto the hope that brought you here today,” he said. “And, hold onto the rope as we cheer the Ragin’ Cajuns onto victory in the New Orleans Bowl.”
The day also marked the start of possibilities that Derek Oriji, 24, of Lafayette said may take him to Houston to pursue his interest in working in sports management.
Oriji received his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology Friday morning.
“I’m exhausted. It was a lot of hard work getting here,” he said.
His next job is finding one, he said.
His mother, Elizabeth Charles beamed proudly at her son.
“I’m relieved that it’s over,” she laughed. “All the pushing and encouragement paid off. It was great to see him achieve what he worked so hard for.”