Laughter, tears and celebration as NSU grads collect diplomas

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Anne Fruge of Kinder received a standing ovation as she collected her diploma during Northwestern State University commencement ceremonies this past week. Fruge, who has Parkinson’s disease, completed her degree to fulfill a promise she made to her father.

NATCHITOCHES – Anne Fruge of Kinder, 67, left college at 18 to marry her husband of 48 years, but returned to earn a degree in general studies with a minor in social sciences to fulfill a promise she made to her father that she would finish her degree. Fruge also has Parkinson’s disease, but she said, “I have Parkinson’s, but Parkinson’s doesn’t have me!”

Fruge received a standing ovation as she crossed the stage to collect her diploma during spring commencement at Northwestern State University Thursday.  She said she was happy to share her story if it inspired one person to not quit.

“There were a lot of hard times, but it was worth going back to school, earning my degree and fulfilling my promise to my dad,” she said.

Fruge was one of nearly 1,000 graduates to receive degrees during two days of commencement ceremonies honoring a class that overcame many challenges due to COVID and related factors that affected their academic journey. Many students excelled despite disruptions and were recognized for their impact at the university.

Two staff members of the University of Louisiana System, Erica Calais and Sandra Green, earned doctorates in Adult Leadership and Development and were hooded by ULS Board of Supervisors members Lola Dunahoe and Joe Salter.

Sarah Sargent of Lake Charles and Jessica Mullican of De Ridder, who are second cousins, were both awarded graduate fellowships from Alpha Lambda Delta honor society for the 2022-23 academic year.  They were both in the President’s Leadership Program their first year, joined Alpha Lambda Delta together and were contributing and participating members from day one.

Track and field student-athlete Natashia Jackson of Natchitoches won 19 career gold medals at the Southland Conference championships, ranking second in conference history.  Jackson ran a leg of the 4×400 relay in a preliminary race at the World Indoor Championships as Team USA ultimately finished fourth.  She owns four NSU records (400 meters indoor and outdoor, 4×100, 4×200 relays) and one SLC record (400 meters indoors). She earned a graduate degree in Homeland Security.

Nicole Lala of Kenner was lauded for her research in incorporating 3D printing into costume design, learning software to design and create realistic crowns and chainmail costume pieces tailored to each actor for an NSU theatre production. Her research and willingness to collaborate in another discipline inspired her to continue study 3D printing and its use in theatre.  After working this summer in the costume department at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, she will attend San Diego State where she received a full tuition waiver and a $10,000 scholarship in pursuit of a Master of Fine Arts in Costume Design.

Seven cadets in NSU’s 72nd Demon Battalion were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, taking the Oath of Office during NSU’s final commencement ceremony Thursday.  They are 2LT Anthony Cantrell of Leesville, 2LT Kayla Graham of Shreveport, 2LT Colby Hennigan of Alexandria, 2LT Tyler Iverson of Fort Polk, 2LT Caleb Krikorian of Shreveport, 2LT Joseph Orchi of Leesville and 2LT Seth Ozsoy of Many.

Some students overcame personal hardships in pursuit of their degrees.

Marilyn Brooks of Gretna, a single mom of three young children, not only completed her degree in Fine and Graphic Art, but is already working in her field of study, teaching art to children.  Brooks began her degree face-to-face at NSU after transferring to the Natchitoches campus as she and her family moved from one military base to another.  A series of life changes led her and her children to relocate to the New Orleans area to be closer to family.  Like many students, she also dealt with temporary displacement from hurricanes and COVID.

Brooks’ faculty said, “We believe that Marilyn has helped pave the way for utilizing the best of our COVID pandemic teaching experiences.  Her graduation will certainly serve as proof of what tenacity and hard work can allow a person to achieve in spite of life’s tumult.”

Makayla Feibel of Elm Grove graduated with an associate degree in nursing.  During a tornado in April, Feibel’s home was severely damaged and she was rescued and evacuated after a 911 call.  Despite that, Feibel was in class at 8 a.m. the next morning prepared to work.

“She made no excuses why could not give 100 percent of herself to the rest of the semester and it pushed her to do even better than she might have imagined,” according to her professor.

Kaylon Willoughby of Hammond earned a degree in performance and directing. After losing her father to COVID, she helped write the script for this past year’s Christmas Gala and dedicated it to him. This year for her senior thesis, she wrote another new play dedicated to her father.

International student Natalia Carolina Zapata-Yonoff a double major in art and music, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  Zapata-Yonoff spent the last four years over 2,000 miles away from her home country of Colombia. While at Northwestern, Zapata-Yonoff worked as a student worker, represented the university at ULS conferences, created graphic design work for NSU and the Natchitoches community as an intern with the Design Center, served as visual editor for The Current Sauce and lead designer of The Potpourri, was lab monitor in the departmental computer lab and taught at Summer Art Camp.

“Natalia has worked very hard to make the most of her NSU experience, part of which has included embracing a new culture,” according to the Art faculty. “For these reasons and more, Natalia has become a very beloved member of the Art Department family.”

Graduates of Northwestern State University’s Doctor of Education in Adult Learning and Development program Drs. Sandra Green, Erica Calais, and Neeru Deep celebrated at the conclusion of their hooding and graduation ceremonies Wednesday. Green and Calais are members of the University of Louisiana System staff and Deep is a professor of psychology at NSU.

“It is important to note that some of our graduates faced difficult circumstances throughout their academic pursuits,” NSU President Dr. Marcus Jones said. “With courage, tenacity and perseverance, these individuals earned their respective degrees, with many receiving honors distinction.”