“Success is not the result of making one good choice”: class of 2018 receives advice at graduation


Streamers and confetti rain down on graduates at the conclusion of the ceremony on Saturday, May 19, 2018. Courtesy of Paula Burch-Celentano, Tulane University

Eager parents, relatives and loved ones streamed into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on May 19, taking their seats in anticipation of the Tulane University’s Unified Commencement Ceremony.

Members of Tulane’s class of 2018 filled the arena with excitement as they received praise for their collective accomplishments, advice about the future and even a sneak peak into President Mike Fitts’s “unreleased 3 a.m. tweets.”

Fitts kicked off the commencement ceremony by commending the graduating class on their hard work with a bit of humor.

“There’s a lot of material that never sees the light of day. As Helen Meiren reminded us last year, nothing good comes from tweeting after 3 a.m. in the morning. And so now, class of 2018, in honor of all of your achievements, it’s my pleasure to bring you a few of my unreleased 3 a.m. tweets.”

After receiving roars of laughter from the audience following the display of these satirical tweets, Fitts shared an anecdote about Adaora Okoli, a member of the class of 2018 receiving her Master’s Degree in Infectious Disease Epidemiology.

Before arriving at Tulane, Okoli was a physician in Nigeria and gained global notoriety and even praise from Bill Gates after fighting off the Ebola virus with nothing more than Tylenol, water and her medical knowledge.

Her bout with the disease inspired her to want to study epidemiology in developing countries, an interdisciplinary field that Fitts said encasules the unique learning and service experience Tulane can provide. According to Fitts, the class of 2018 collectively completed more than 100,000 hours of community service across a variety of different disciplines, schools and programs.

Following Fitts’s address, Tulane Medical student Daniel “Danny” Sullivan took the stage to address his classmates and reflect on his 13-year academic career at Tulane. In addition to graduating with his M.D., Sullivan has also earned his Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree at Tulane years prior.

After sharing a story about a Tulane alumni with Alzheimer’s disease he had met in New Iberia, LA during a family medicine rotation, Sullivan left the crowd with two reasons he had shared this particular memory. He expressed that second impressions will sometimes say more than first impressions, and advised the graduates to have excitement and zeal when meeting other Tulane alumni.

“Hold onto the memories that you’ve made at Tulane, and share them whether that be a captivating course with a great professor, a term paper you put all your effort into, athletic achievements, student activism or just experiencing all the great culture this city has to offer,” Sullivan said.

Every year, Tulane awards a number of honorary degrees to individuals who have made a large and valuable impact. This year, Netscape Co-Founder James H. Clark, Dr. Paul E. Farmer, Steve Gleason, former New Orleans Saints and ALS activist, and Grammy-winning singer Irma Thomas were honorary degree recipients.

Following Thomas’ performance of “It’s Raining,” Jesmyn Ward, Tulane English Professor, one of TIME magazine’s Most Influential People of 2018 and commencement speaker, addressed the crowd.

Ward began her speech with a story about her childhood. Hailing from a poor, rural and primarily black community in Mississippi, Ward recounted the struggles her family members had in trying to get high education and survive in harsh conditions with little resources.

After attending Stanford University, Ward said she learned a valuable lesson about university and its role in success.

“I realized that education wasn’t one choice, instead, it was a lifetime’s undertaking. As an adult, I realized that finding the kind of life I want to live required constant work, constant study, constant risk-taking and there were no easy routes to success for people like me.”

Ward worked tirelessly long after her graduation day to develop her writing and strive for her dreams to be a writer. She left the audience with words of advice for their oncoming journey into adulthood.

“Success is not the result of making one good choice, of taking one step,” Ward said. “Real success requires step after step after step after step. It requires choice after choice, it demands education and passion and commitment and persistence and hunger and patience.”

The ceremony concluded with a performance by Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Jazz Band.

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