BOSSIER CITY – All of the 1,249 LSUS graduates who earned their degrees Friday pushed themselves to reach a life milestone.
But Bossier City native Allie Maggio Gray is likely the only graduate to have taken a test on the same day she gave birth to her daughter.
Gray took a human resource management test after her daughter Julia was born via C-Section this past September.
“It was the last day I could take the test,” said Gray, who earned a bachelor’s in business administration and received a lot of encouragement from her mother to do whatever it took.
Fifteen-month-old Julia just started walking, and she watched her mom stride across the graduation stage seven years after her college journey began.
That journey included owning and operating her own business – A.T. Lawn & Landscape – during the COVID-19 pandemic as an extra source of income.
She operates the business with her husband Thomas, who deployed overseas for a year with the Army during Allie’s time in college.
While graduates will cherish the pictures they took with their children Friday, Master of Health Administration graduate Cheryl Grady will have to wait a couple of days to capture cap and gown pictures with her daughter. That’s because Grady’s daughter will be at her own graduation Friday, walking across the stage at Southern in Baton Rouge with an MBA.
“It means a lot to graduate with a master’s degree on the same day as my daughter, but it’ll be bittersweet because we can’t be with each other,” said Grady, who works in patient access at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond. “It’s a great week for our family because my niece graduated from Alcorn State with a bachelor’s degree last Saturday. I wanted upward mobility in my career, and I want to do something in human resources.
For Ashley Caldwell-Wagner, she pursued her bachelor’s degree not necessarily for upward mobility, but for a career that more aligned with her personal taste.
The experienced supervisor in an authorization department completed her bachelor’s in psychology and will pursue a master’s in counseling at LSUS.
“I want to start an open group across the region that focuses on family and addiction counseling,” said Caldwell-Wagner. “Maybe I’ll specialize in people who are transitioning and other members of the (LGBTQIA+) community.
“The money was okay in my old career, but I wanted to take care of family while aligning myself with God’s purpose for me.”
Fellow psychology graduate Marlaysha Sophus plans to pursue a master’s in counseling because of a less-than-ideal experience with a counselor in her teenage years.
“I wanted more from the people I encountered in that profession, so I want to be a licensed professional counselor that works with adolescents,” Sophus said. “I want to help other teens who were in my situation.”
LSUS chancellor Dr. Robert Smith acknowledged the challenges Friday’s graduates overcame to reach the graduation stage.
“Whether you graduated from one of our face-to-face programs or an online program, completing your studies required great perseverance, resilience, and endurance,” said Smith, who oversees an LSUS institution that graduates the third-most students in Louisiana. “For some of you, the demands were especially challenging.
“Through all of this, each of you had a personal team of supporters, whether it was family or close friends. Based on your success at LSUS, I am confident that you will find great success in your future.”
Katy Murray, Friday’s commencement speaker who is the president of the Dallas News Corporation that publishes The Dallas Morning News, said LSUS provided the focus and stability needed to achieve great heights in the corporate world.
Murray was open to opportunity, and she advised graduates to “carry the torch of gratitude” forward.
“When I was sitting in your seat 32 years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated,” said Murray, who shifted from accounting to broader corporate leadership in which she held senior leadership positions in six companies across various industries. “I know many of you are probably certain of your next step, and that’s fantastic. “Some of you may find yourselves going down one path, but then something changes.
“While you think things may be all planned out, let the unknown happen. The key is to notice these moments and embrace them without holding back. Be visible to leaders where you work. Ask to be involved in projects, even if they are not part of your day-to-day responsibilities. It’s common to feel afraid, unsure, and even overwhelmed, but success often involves facing risks and challenges.”