Crowd of graduates celebrate as streamers come down on a stadium field. A graduate in the foreground holds decorated umbrella.

Persistence Pays Off

At the Unified Commencement held in Yulman Stadium — in a ceremony filled with music and laughter — degrees are conferred on members of the Class of 2022, who are lauded for their endurance and creativity.

Members of the Class of 2022 exuberantly celebrate at the Unified Commencement in Yulman Stadium. Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano and Rusty Costanza

The Class of 2022 celebrated its Unified Commencement ceremony in true Tulane and New Orleans style on Saturday, May 21 — with music and laughter mixed with serious recognition of the determination and grit that it took to get to this day.

In the academic procession, graduates marched onto Benson Field, where they sat in chairs while their friends and families watched from the Yulman Stadium stands. The sun peeked in and out from behind clouds.

Dr. Michael White and his Original Liberty Jazz Band provided the musical prologue and invocation, setting the tone for the festivities.

Tulane President Michael A. Fitts said, “Music is everywhere in New Orleans. Once you hear that New Orleans beat, once you move to its rhythm, you never get it out of your head.”

Like a practiced DJ, Fitts shared advice and presented samples of iconic musical beats from “Iko, Iko,” “Funky Drummer” and “We Will Rock You,” extolling the strength of the Class of 2022.

“There is so much that could have beaten you down: COVID, hurricanes, and a world in conflict and chaos. But you have not been diminished by your circumstances. You have persisted fearlessly with creativity and confidence. You have kept the beat.”

A graduate in cap and gown and sunglasses holds an umbrella decorated with green feathers.
A graduate gets in the spirit with a New Orleans–style decorated umbrella.

Ken Jeong, the keynote speaker, reiterated the importance of never giving up. “The key to success is persistence,” said Jeong, an actor, producer, writer — and doctor. Known for his roles in The Hangover movie franchise, the TV shows “Community” and “Dr. Ken” along with other performances, Jeong got his big break in comedy while performing in small clubs in New Orleans when doing medical research in gastroenterology at Tulane medical school.

“New Orleans magically opened a new life for me,” said Jeong, noting that the city undoubtedly also did that for members of the Class of 2022. “I discovered the wonder and joy that is this city.

“It’s because of New Orleans I was able to persist and become both a doctor and a comedian.”

But Jeong’s success was not a given. In New Orleans, he discovered his fully integrated sense of self — and he persisted. “Never give up,” Jeong told the graduates, even when experiencing failure and setbacks. “Never close the door on your life, always persist.”

Actor, producer, writer and doctor Ken Jeong and graduate Russell J. Ledet sit on stage.
The keynote speaker was actor, producer, writer and doctor Ken Jeong (right), and the Class of 2022 speaker was Russell J. Ledet, who earned MD and MBA degrees.

Class of 2022 speaker Russell J. Ledet, who earned MD and MBA degrees, encouraged his fellow graduates to be proud of themselves at the moment of their graduation. “You earned this moment,” he said.

His time at Tulane taught Ledet that “family is everything, without debate.”

“There are people at this institution that will be connected to me for the rest of my life. They taught me how to appreciate hard work, persistence, belief in self, patience, and most importantly, moments. Moments matter.”

President Fitts concurred that the class of 2022 is being sent forth at a critical moment in history. “There has never been a class like yours,” he said. “You’re committed to community. You’re connected to each other in ways that outlast time and distance. You are smart problem-solvers at a time when people are seeking answers. You are leaders and barrier breakers, collaborators and beat makers. I can’t wait to see what you do next.”

Tulane President Michael A. Fitts shakes hands with General David Berger who appears in uniform.
Tulane President Michael A. Fitts congratulates honorary degree recipient Gen. David Berger, E ’81.
Bachelor’s degree candidates clap and cheer in the stadium during the ceremony.
Bachelor’s degree candidates clap and cheer during the joyous occasion.

At the ceremony, for the first time Tulane bestowed an honorary degree posthumously. It was presented to baseball legend Hank Aaron, whose widow, Billye Aaron, accepted on his behalf. Ken Jeong also was presented an honorary degree along with Gen. David Berger, a 1981 Tulane graduate, who has been commandant of the Marine Corps since 2019. Dr. Rosalind Picard, an inventor, engineer, scientist and pioneer in artificial intelligence was also given an honorary award but was unable to travel to Commencement due to illness. She will receive her honorary degree at a later date.


Class of 2020 Returns to Campus in April for Postponed Celebration

By Faith Dawson

Against the backdrop of a beautiful spring sunset over Yulman Stadium, almost 1,200 members of the Class of 2020 gathered for their in-person Unified Diploma ceremony, held on April 22, 2022.

President Michael Fitts presided over the ceremony, which featured Tulane’s traditions of jazz, provided by Dr. Michael White and his Original Liberty Jazz Band featuring Yolanda Windsay, and gonfalons in procession.

A decorated mortarboard says "two years later".
A decorated mortarboard says it all for the Class of 2020.

“You’ve demonstrated resilience, flexibility, persistence, and — this is key — a good sense of humor,” Fitts told the graduates. “You’ve faced a crisis. And you’re not only still standing — you’re moving forward. Each of you learned the most important lesson you can carry with you every day for the rest of your life: The knowledge that you can do hard things.”

Fitts then turned the podium over to Col. Douglas G. Hurley, the keynote speaker. Hurley, a 1988 engineering graduate of Tulane and a former member of Tulane ROTC, is a NASA astronaut, space shuttle pilot and commander of the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Colonel Douglas Hurley delivers the keynote speech from the stage
Col. Douglas G. Hurley, E ’88, delivers the keynote speech, telling the graduates to never give up, no matter the obstacles they might encounter.

“The real difference you’re going to make will be a function of those challenges you go through and what you do to work on them,” Hurley said.

“Don’t ever give up. It’s not going to be easy, but just like today, it’ll be worth it."

Fireworks light up the sky above Yulman Stadium as graduates watch. One graduate holds a decorated umbrella.
Fireworks light up the sky as members of the Class of 2020 return to the Tulane campus for an in-person Unified Diploma ceremony.
Hands holding a plate of boiled crawfish, corn and potato.
Crawfest coincided with the Class of 2020 ceremony in April.