Hello, my name is Michael DeJean and I am a senior at ULM. After graduating from high school in 2014, I spent a year at LSU. After struggling with the decision of what degree to pursue and finding no help in the bureaucracy of a school with over 30,000 students, I realized that LSU was not the place for me. I decided to leave school and enter the workforce to give myself some time to discover where my passions truly were.
After a couple of years, I found that I had a serious interest in a career in marketing. In the fall of 2017, I decided to move to Monroe and enroll at ULM. I chose ULM for two main reasons. First, I had heard from a number of students that they were able to form lasting relationships with their professors and, from them, actually receive guidance as their academic careers progressed. This was something I very much wanted after my poor experience at LSU. Secondly, ULM offered a degree program entirely online, where students could make their school schedule fit around their work schedule while still having access to the resources that a campus provides. And so, I enrolled and began taking classes once again.
In the years between then and now, I have turned 25, worked two separate full-time jobs, lived through a pandemic, and gone from being “in a relationship” to getting engaged and then getting married. The only thing that has remained the same over the past three years has been my academics.
The one constant that people in my life have observed has been my dedication to my schooling. While working two jobs to save enough for my tuition, I have stayed up late night after night to complete my assignments. When my wife’s family invited us on a trip to Disney World, I brought my laptop and left the park to take an exam. While in Colorado for my own wedding, I left the festivities to finish assignments that were due. All these things I was able to do because I had a single motivation: Do whatever it takes in order to walk across that stage and graduate from college. With my siblings, I talked about the various types of noisemakers and celebratory cheers that would be yelled when my name was called in Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
However, the world has changed from the time that I started at ULM. In the midst of a pandemic, I understand that a traditional graduation is not possible. I would not ask anyone to endanger themselves or others to provide me with an avenue to celebrate.
However, I ask you to think back to your own commencement ceremonies and remember what impacted you the most about that moment. Do you remember who spoke at your graduation or who was sitting next to you? Do you have fond memories of whatever location housed your graduation? I doubt that is what sticks out in your mind because those are not what is important about a commencement ceremony. The impact of a commencement ceremony comes from the act of physically walking across a stage and receiving validation for the work that goes into earning a college degree.
I beg you, please let us have a graduation ceremony in person. I understand the logistics may not be easy, but the students of this university who have put in years of dedication and thousands of hours of work deserve to be recognized with something better than a Zoom meeting. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that a football season can be safely put on while a commencement ceremony is impossible. Thousands of high schools managed to host outdoor commencements following the spring of 2020, why can we not do the same? We can wear masks, spread out the chairs and be socially distanced.
If shaking the President’s or the Dean’s hand is not safe, then forego that. If guests are an issue, then host a ceremony only for the graduates. If weather is an issue, put temporary covering over the field. None of these issues are impossible to overcome if the university makes recognizing their students a priority.
I hope that the university can find a solution that is both safe and worthy of the effort that everyone at ULM puts into making this school the “Best on the Bayou.”
Thank you for your time.
Michael DeJean, ULM Class of 2020