Northwestern State University awarded 990 degrees to 966 graduates during spring commencement, which took place with six ceremonies over three days, May 5-7. It was the last commencement presided over by NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio, who will retire June 30, and he was applauded by faculty, staff and students for more than 33 years of service to Northwestern State, the last four as president.
Maggio acknowledged the fortitude of the Spring 2021 graduates, who faced many challenges during a global pandemic, two devastating hurricanes, an ice storm and other unexpected disruptions. Twenty-four students earned double and triple degrees. Maggio recognized the accomplishments of several students, including the first graduates of the doctoral program in adult learning and development, a degree program that will potentially impact higher education and economic development in Louisiana. He also recognized individual students Tyler Gatewood of McKinney, Texas; Nicholas Hopkins of Bossier City, William Foley of Boyce and Jacorrian Davis of Natchez.
Gatewood earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering technology and is a fourth-generation Northwestern graduate, going back to his great-grandfather, Joe Webb, who earned his degree in 1926 and was a long-time member of the faculty. Tyler’s parents and grandparents are also Northwestern alumni, including his grandfather, the late Dr. Randall J. Webb, the 17th president of the university. Gatewood is the son of Reggie (1994) and Tamara Webb Gatewood (1995). His grandmother, Brenda Webb, earned her master’s at NSU in 1965, the same year Randall Webb earned a degree in mathematics and business education, followed by a master’s in math in 1966. Gatewood’s aunt and uncle Nicholas and Lauren Webb Simokaitis earned degrees in 1997. In all, more than 50 members of the Webb family earned diplomas from the university where Randall Webb was its longest-serving president from 1996-2014.
Hopkins graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in management. He was deeply involved in campus life and was elected Mr. NSU while serving as student body president. He served in many leadership roles on campus and at the state level. He served as a fellow for the 2020 Louisiana Governor’s Fellowship Program Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Fellow. In that effort, he assisted the State with COVID-19 mitigation and prevention efforts and conducted research on flood insurance policies in Louisiana. He also served as the University of Louisiana System Student Advisory Committee Chairman and on the NSULA Student Technology Advisory Team. He had many leadership roles in the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, including chapter delegate, which led to a job as an international consultant after graduation.
Foley enrolled at NSU in 1982, but left NSU to pursue other education opportunities and a 37-year career in the U.S. Navy. When thinking about his retirement, Foley had always had an interest in working in the medical field, so in 2014, he earned an associate degree in nursing and became a Registered Nurse in 2018. Foley began the RN to BSN program at NSU in the spring of 2019 while still living in Virginia, where he was a member of the Medical Reserve Corps and volunteered there earlier this year giving COVID-19 vaccinations. He retired from the federal government this past January after years of military and civilian service to the U.S. Navy. He has applied to NSU’s Master of Science in Nursing program and plans to continue his education with NSU.
Davis graduated in computer information systems with a concentration in cyber security. He first started the program about a decade ago and then stepped out to join the Army. After serving in the Army in Japan, he came back to NSU to finish his degree. He obtained an internship at GDIT last summer and will begin working full-time in the cyber security field.
Many students expressed gratitude to their families, professors and mentors who helped them reach the commencement milestone.
“I will be forever grateful for the support I received at NSU, to keep going and never give up,” said Antonia Kettner grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and moved to the United States after graduating high school with a K2-Visa. She applied to NSU as soon as she got to the U.S. and said she received great support from staff in getting her start at the university. In 2018 she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and continued her studies in pursuit of a master’s degree. After living in the U.S. for five years, she applied for citizenship in 2020 and prepared for her interview by studying U.S. history, politics, laws and geography. She is now a dual citizen. She graduated with a master’s degree in homeland security and would like to work for the Department of Homeland Security.
Brent Cosio of Anacoco said he was thankful for his professors and mentors for their guidance and others in the Natchitoches community – landlords, employers and business owners – who tolerate freshman college students and follow them through their senior year. He earned a degree in computer information systems. Cosio was active in academics, in his fraternity and campus life.
“The classes I took not only taught me business basics but emphasized leadership and relationship skills,” he said. “I am looking forward to taking the skills I have acquired from Northwestern State University and applying them to create and operate a successful business and to serve members of my community. Today, my diploma is tipped to NSU.”
In addition to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances, some graduates demonstrated strength, bravery and personal grit in completing their degrees.
Anita Michelle Slaughter of Florien said she did not want to be a statistic. After becoming pregnant as a teenager, she dropped out of high school, breaking a promise to her mother. Once her children were grown, she enrolled at NSU and completed her degree while working fulltime, usually at least 50 hours per week, and spending a total of four weeks in the last two semesters using a generator to power a laptop and Internet due to the hurricanes and ice storm. After overcoming many challenges and academic downturns, she graduated with an associate degree in general studies, an honor student with a 3.7 GPA.
“I have worked hard to get where I am at today,” she said. “I want to redeem myself from that broken promise.” Her mother was in the audience to watch Slaughter walk across the stage.
During the fall of 2019, Korey Cleveland of Pineville learned he was soon to be a father. He was struggling with life and performing poorly in class. After his daughter’s birth, he found the discipline and maturity to focus on his studies and made a commitment to finish his degree in psychology by the time his daughter turned one year old.
“I came into NSU as 18-year-old kid seeking growth and knowledge and I will be walking as a 23-year-old father, graduate and an individual ready to make a change in society,” he said. He thanked his professors, advisors, the NSU counseling staff, his fraternity brothers, his daughter Kylar and her mother Alai’jha. Kylar will be one year old on May 8.
Kanika Revels of Natchitoches earned a degree in child and family studies. After many months of helping her husband through chemotherapy for cancer, he contracted COVID-19 and succumbed to the virus weeks ago in early April. Revels graduated with a near perfect GPA. Her CFS faculty and colleagues expressed their pride in Revels for her determination to complete her degree, deal with tragedy and work full-time.
Bruna Galarza of Leesville was one of four ROTC cadets commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army in conjunction with graduation. Galarza enlisted in the Army 11 years ago, was soon deployed to Afghanistan and quickly realized the importance of effective leadership. Galarza enrolled at NSU through the Green to Gold program to earn a master’s degree in homeland security. At the time of enrollment, she was 28, married and with two young children. During her first semester, she discovered she was expecting a third child, but said her children gave her the motivation to keep pushing herself. Last week, she was awarded the Maj. Gen. Erbon W. Wise Touchstone Award presented to an ROTC cadet who is the model of good citizenship, embodies Army values and warrior ethos, contributes beyond the expected and encourages others to do the same.
“During my time here at Northwestern State University, I’ve had the chance to share my experiences with younger cadets and been able to mentor them throughout the program,” she said. “I know that through these interactions, I’ve been able to grow as a leader and develop essential skills to excel in this new career path, and I hope that I have helped each cadet along their own journey.”
Jenna Dunstan Silvius is a proud military wife and began her studies when her husband was stationed at Fort Polk. In March 2020, Silvius and her husband were moved from Hawaii to North Carolina. Ten days later, her husband was unexpectedly deployed and she was left to set up their home while completing coursework. During 2020, two of her husband’s grandparents passed away. A few weeks later, her mother experienced a serious stroke and Silvius traveled to Florida to help with her long recovery. While there, she contracted COVID-19. She took her fall finals while quarantined and very sick. This spring, she was able to complete the remainder of her courses to finish with a double major in psychology and addiction studies. She thanked her professors and advisors for their endless support.
“Cheers to resilience, and the journey ahead into the next chapter of our lives,” she said. “We did it. Congratulations, Class of 2021!”
Photo Credit: Abby Nelson