The University of New Orleans Celebrates Spring 2013 Commencement
Only in New Orleans do college graduates receive their diplomas then second line out of the stadium -- and at the University of New Orleans spring commencement on Friday, graduates certainly had a swing to their steps.
One thousand graduates received 1,041 diplomas from UNO on May 17 at the Lakefront Arena. They hailed from 46 states and 62 countries -- and included 14 summa cum laude, 44 magna cum laude, 52 cum laude and 13 University honors graduates.
Sporting traditional black cap and gowns and other commencement regalia, the graduates proceeded into the arena in a formal ceremony that included a procession of administrators, faculty and students. The UNO Family marched into the arena behind a ceremonial University mace and silk gonfolans bearing the names of their individual colleges.
UNO President Peter J. Fos presided over the graduation ceremony. He welcomed graduates to the event likening them to runners who had just completed a race and were now joining the winner's circle. Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost James Payne conferred degrees.
"You have finished the race and we are gathered tonight in the winner's circle," Fos said. "Congratulations to all of you."
Father Maximos Pafilis of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans delivered the invocation. Danielle Edinburgh Wilson, a graduate assistant in the UNO Department of Music, sang the national anthem and the UNO alma mater.
Conservationist and UNO alumnus Marcus Eriksen gave the commencement address. Eriksen, who is executive director and co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, is an anti-plastic pollution advocate who once floated 2,000 miles down the Mississippi River on a raft made of 232 plastic bottles, juxtaposing the symbol of plastic pollution with the experience of living with pristine nature. Since then, Eriksen and his wife, Anna, have sailed 25,000 miles into the five subtropical gyres, or large systems of ocean currents, to document global distribution of plastic pollution.
"What I wish someone had told me 20 years ago, is this, what I'm telling you now: Tie your work to your core values," said the former Marine, who conceived his Tom Sawyer adventure while fighting in the Persian Gulf War and has since devoted his life to conservation and the preservation of basic human rights. "You know what's right in the world, so grab onto one issue and become an expert at that one piece of the pie. If you try to take it all on, you'll get depressed. Take on one small piece of it and be the best at it. Work with others to make it right. Trade your ego for a we-go. There is amazing richness and solidarity towards fighting for a mission."
"So what's your mission? What is your mission?" he asked graduates. "What do you want to accomplish with your career from this point forward? That's a question that you will answer for yourself from here."
Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor John Larroquette received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Video highlights of his illustrious career in film, television and theater rolled on giant screens. Larroquette is the "voice" behind the University of New Orleans marketing campaign, "the Heartbeat of the Crescent City."
"This is truly an honor and I am truly humbled. And I've often said, and not sarcastically," said the actor known for his comedic timing and sarcastic wit, "that if I had been educated, I would have become something truly important, but as it is, I am an actor." He thanked the University for bestowing "this remarkable honor" and congratulated all the graduates.
"Dr. Larroquette, I am proud to have you as a fellow alumnus," President Fos replied.
UNO graduates second lined out of the arena, diplomas in hand, to the jazz rebirth sounds of the Pocket Aces brass band, a traditional New Orleans brass band made up of mostly UNO students.
Second line parades are part of the cultural heritage of New Orleans. In a brass band parade, the "main line" or "first line" is the main section of the parade and includes the members of the actual club and the brass band. Followers of the band are called the "second line." They move in traditional dance, walking and twirling an umbrella, parasol or handkerchief in the air. The spirited shuffle is meant to connote celebration.