Another academic year has come to an end at UL Lafayette and 1,615 candidates received degrees — the largest graduating class in the history of the university. Every story of achievement is unique and just about every graduate has a tale to tell of struggle and triumph ultimately leading to the big commencement moment.

For some the struggle is as simple as a poor test grade one semester that felt impossible to overcome, while for others battles of financing to continue education, dilemmas of curriculum paths and overcoming hurdles of “life” made the journey a bumpy ride. Through it all, this year’s graduates walk away with more than a piece of paper — they walk away with a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing countless cups of coffee and late-night library study sessions are small prices to pay for an education.

Band of Brothers

Noel Townsend, Clayton Townsend and Jason Townsend

Growing up, brothers do everything together — they play ball, dig in the dirt and give their parents gray hair, but how often do three brothers decide to enroll in college at the same time and then graduate together?
The Townsend brothers, originally from Hattiesberg, Miss., did just that. Noel, 37, Jason, 36, and Clayton, 33, enrolled at UL in the fall of 2011 with the goal of earning a degree in petroleum engineering. None of the three found it odd they were in the same classes studying the same curriculum, but rather taking their father’s advice of pursuing a profession with a promising future.

Before enrolling at UL, the brothers were pursuing different career paths — Jason served in the Marine Corps with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an intelligence specialist, Noel was a manager at a copy and ship store and Clayton was working for Noel. All three knew they were meant for more in the workforce. Jason talked to Noel about the idea, and soon all three were on board with college.

As to the decision on petroleum engineering, Jason cuts to the chase, “I won’t fluff it, petroleum engineering jobs pay the best, by a lot.” The National Association of Colleges and Employers released a report stating bachelor’s degree petroleum engineers earned an average starting salary of $97,000. The brothers chose to study at UL because there weren’t any petroleum engineering programs in Mississippi and the reputation of UL’s professors and the program overall piqued their interest.

The Townsend brothers finished the spring semester in the top 5 percent of the 33 candidates in their graduating class and have signed on for jobs in the lucrative field. Noel will work for Petra Consultants in Lafayette as a facilities engineer, Jason is moving to Houston with Weatherford International and Clayton is in negotiations for a field engineering position with one of his top prospects. Future plans are to independently gain experience in the oil and gas business but to one day start their own consulting company.

No Time Like the Present

Georgia Rasmussen

Most students at UL are on the “four-year plan,” maybe five and some change, but what about the 43-year plan? Georgia Rasmussen didn’t set out for it to take quite that long to don a cap and gown, but sometimes life has other ideas. The wife and mother of three and grandmother of five children now adds UL alumnus to her titles.

In 1971 Rasmussen earned 129 hours as an elementary education major but moved to California with her husband Mike and their young son when Mike enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. At the time, Georgia looked into completing her degree in California, but tuition was too costly, and soon family demands clouded Georgia’s goal of receiving her degree. Clouds, however, are temporary and Georgia waited for an opportune ray of sunshine.

There were multiple moves and more children added to Georgia’s life, but through it all she found ways to impact her community through civic organizations and always with the thought of eventually finishing her education — once she made sure all three of her children had received their degrees.

Last fall Georgia enrolled in UL’s distance learning program, needing only 11 hours to earn her degree. She studied from her North Carolina home while working full-time as a manager at H&R Block and participated in online courses. She communicated with her professors via Skype and email — all technologies not available in the ’70s when life took Georgia away from the physical campus. The end of the educational journey (or is it?) for Georgia Rasmussen is a degree in general studies with a concentration in behavioral science as a member of the class of 2014.

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