In his final commencement address Saturday, retiring University of Louisiana Monroe President Nick J. Bruno, Ph.D., announced the Spring 2020 class overcame the challenges of a semester disrupted by COVID-19 to set an institutional record.

“The grand total of 1,027 degrees awarded to 1,023 graduates is the largest graduating class in the university’s 89-year history,” said Bruno at the first ULM Virtual Recognition Ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 16, 2020.

Bruno and several special guests congratulated graduates via video on the day commencement exercises would have been held at Fant-Ewing Coliseum. The ceremony has been rescheduled for Aug. 8.

“Each one of you persevered through the Spring 2020 semester to reach the goal you set for yourself several years ago. You showed great discipline and dedication to not give up on your dream. All of us at ULM are so very proud of you,” he said.

The breakdown of degrees: College of Arts, Education, and Sciences — 203, College of Business and Social Sciences — 288, College of Health Sciences — 220, College of Pharmacy — 102 (B.S. Toxicology — 16, Pharm.D. — 86), and Graduate School — 214 (master’s degrees — 203, Doctor of Education — 3, Ph.D. — 8).

Of the 1,023 graduates, 677 are women (66 percent), and 346 are men (34 percent). Degrees were awarded to 845 students from Louisiana, 119 from out of state, and 106 international students.

ULM had a 4 percent increase in the six-year graduation rate over the last academic year (2028-19), and the first- to second-year retention rate increased from 7.2 percent to 72.94 percent.

“From these numbers, it is clear ULM is producing graduates equipped to enter the high-demand, highly skilled fields of today’s workforce,” Bruno said.

“You are the newest members of the ULM Alumni Association. As such, you are charged with representing your alma mater by sharing the best of yourselves. Share your knowledge, share your gifts and talents, your strengths, and also, your compassion.

“This is a bittersweet day for me. As many of you know, I am retiring as your president after serving 10 years. I assure you, this was not the way I envisioned my final commencement address. It has been a privilege to work with the faculty and staff dedicated to this university, and an honor to have served you, our students. Farewell, Talons Out, and stay safe Warhawks.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed offered video congratulations, as did several ULM alumni.

Doug Pederson, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, told graduates, “You’ve stayed strong, and you’ve stayed the course. I wish you the best going forward. Please stay safe, go Warhawks, and go Birds.”

Alum Willie Robertson, CEO of Duck Commander, encouraged graduates to focus on the future, saying, “Here’s the good news, you did it. You never know what life’s got for you. I wish you guys good luck, and God bless.”

ULM alumni and supporters speaking during the virtual ceremony were, West Monroe Mayor Staci Albritton, Leann Causey Boyd, Pharm.D., CEO and co-founder of Southern Scripts, Tim Brando, Fox Sports commentator, Derrick Gore, Los Angeles Chargers running back, Alberta Green, CEO of ABG Professional Development Solutions, Traci Jordan, Chief Nursing Officer at Ochsner LSU Health Monroe Medical Center, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and Maxine Moreau, President CenturyLink Consumer Markets.

ULM Vice President of Academic Affairs Alberto Ruiz, Ed.D., introduced UL System President Jim Henderson, Ph.D.

“The most memorable thing that comes from this semester is you, your accomplishment. You graduated from college,” Henderson said. “It was the resilience, and the determination that you displayed en route to completing your degree, are skills and traits that will remain with you forever and will prepare you for whatever the future holds.”

The Virtual Recognition Ceremony, produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications, has been viewed 40,301 times on Facebook/University of Louisiana Monroe and 2,380 on the University of Louisiana Monroe YouTubechannel.

ULM alumnus Oak Grove Mayor Adam Holland opened the historic Fiske Theatre to the family of Spring 2020 graduate, Meghan Edmonson Russell, to enjoy the virtual graduation ceremony on the big screen.

ULM, as part of the UL System, intends to reopen the campus for Fall 2020. Edwin Litolff, Ph.D., Vice President and CFO of the UL System, was named interim president by the system board. Litolff is on campus working with Bruno, executive staff, deans, and directors to finalize plans and procedures for reopening.

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