It was the end of a long journey for each of the 335 Louisiana Tech graduates on Saturday, March 7, but Johnnie Simon, of Choudrant, said she does not plan for her this winter graduation to shut the book of her educational journey.

“Tech has always been our home college,” the education major said. “Dr. Dawn Basinger (assistant professor of education) encouraged me to come back, and I plan on getting my master’s eventually, and I plan to come here.”

Simon, who has two children of her own, ages 10 and 13, said her job as a mother has made obtaining the degree a bit challenging but well worth the wait.

“The people I worked with in the College of Education were so supportive, like my Tech family,” Simon said. “I wanted to better my education and spend more time with my children.”

Simon, who graduated high school in 1985, is now among the 22 percent of Louisiana residents who have a bachelor’s degree, said Sally Clausen, commissioner of higher education and the keynote speaker at winter commencement. Only about 16 percent of Louisianans have a master’s degree, and for those with doctoral degrees, Clausen said the group is “indeed in rare company.”

However, Clausen said this day was to celebrate those who had gone the distance in achieving their graduation goal.

“It is the American spirit that we stay with it,” Clausen said. “About 12 years ago, America led the world in the number of adults who had a college education. Today, our country has slipped to No. 10. Those numbers have to change in the future, and it will take time, collaboration and investment to ensure that we graduate more students.”

Clausen said the Board of Regents is already planning a strategy to have 10,000 more graduates by 2015 – despite budget cuts.

“My priority is that more students have access,” Clausen said. “Not just 10 percent of the African American population, not just 12 percent of the Hispanic population, and not just 40 percent of the white population. I want to have Louisiana Tech well supported so that all students have the opportunity to become Louisiana Tech graduates.”

Clausen praised Tech President Dan Reneau as being one of the most “progressive presidents in the country” and commended the faculty and staff for their attentiveness to students.

“This university is known around the country as one that cares for students,” she said. “It’s not just leadership; it’s faculty who convey to students that they care. It’s the faculty and staff leadership of this university that makes the difference.”

Clausen also urged parents and graduates to write letters to Congress expressing their desire to see higher education not be hit so much by budget cuts. She said one letter usually expresses the views of about 200 individuals.

“Write a letter to your representative or senator or congressman,” she said. “That note counts. Your note carries weight for what happens to your future.”

After her speech, Reneau awarded Clausen with the Distinguished Service Award for “being on the scene for so many years and constantly supporting Louisiana Tech.”

Her support is joined by others, including alumni. Jarrod Burns, of Elm Grove, said his wife, Dawnielle Cheran Burns, who graduated from Tech’s nursing program in 2005, encouraged him to also pursue an associate’s degree in nursing – which he did.

“I heard the program for nursing here was really good,” Burns said. “I’ve become friends with my classmates, and we’re really close in the school. You come out of the program knowing what you should know.”

Ailrick Deon Young, of Hattiesburg, Miss., who graduated with his bachelor’s in sociology, is staying around for another year to take graphic design classes while he plays football. He said he has enjoyed his time at Tech, but it has also been a challenge to balance all of his activities.

“It’s tough, but you have to keep yourself motivated,” Young said. “You just have to find time to study and stay focused.”

Written by Judith Roberts