The Dillard Class of 2017: Sharing Their Stories

Over the past couple of days there have been a number of news stories about the first Black student graduation at Harvard. In an AP story, this quote stood out to me: “So many students identify with the African diaspora but don’t necessarily feel welcome as part of the larger community, and they don’t feel like their stories are being shared.”

Part of me is like, “What the hell did you expect?” Harvard was founded in 1636 and was not made with you in mind. I’m not saying don’t go there, but it is unrealistic to expect your story to be uplifted there.

Marylou Wallace, PSC ’11; DrPH ’15, University of Kentucky

I have presided over 13 graduations as a president. One of the traditions I continued from Albany State University where Portia Holmes Shields was president (and I was VP for Student Affairs) was to tell a little about some of the graduates each year. I saw how powerful these moments were at Albany State, and they have had the same power at both Philander Smith and now Dillard.

I had a guest at our commencement on Saturday say that I should published the stories I told in a book, because they helped her connect to the entire experience. I still may do that, but for now, I’ll tell some of the stories here.

We had 2 valedictorians, the second time in history. The first was in 2011.

Aaliyah Cummings is a business administration major from Shreveport, La. has accepted employment with ExxonMobil Corporation as a full-time sales advisor in the Fuels, Lubricants, & Specialties Marketing Division. During her time at Dillard Cummings has held membership and served in in a number of organizations including the Alpha Chi and Alpha Kappa Mu National Honor Societies, the American Marketing Association, and the Alpha Beta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority where she served as parliamentarian. As a Fellow of the Melton Foundation, a global citizen organization, Cummings traveled to Africa, Asia, Germany and South America. A scholar athlete, Cummings not only made the grade in academics but she made her mark on the track field as well as a 100-meter hurdler on Dillard’s Women’s Track and Field team. In 2014, she set a conference record as the 100-meter hurdle Conference Champion for the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. Cummings was also recognized as Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2015.

Oluseun Joaquim, is an accounting and finance major from Lagos, Nigeria, has accepted full-time employment at one of the Big 4 accounting firms in the world. Prior to her job offer, Joaquim completed impressive summer internships at JP Morgan as a Credit Trading Analyst and as an Assurance Launch Intern at Ernst & Young. Joaquim is the recipient of a Dillard University Institutional Scholarship and the Benjamin E. Mays-Samuel Dubois Cook Presidential Scholarship. Joaquim, who describes herself as a global citizen, is passionate about the financial industry. She has garnered leadership experience in a number of organizations serving as President of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), President of Dillard University’s Investment Club (DUIC), Lead Fellow in Dillard’s Melton Foundation, a global citizen organization, and Vice President of African World Network Organization (AWNO). By the time she graduated she has already passed THREE portions of the CPA exam. In addition, Joaquim is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority.

Dr. William Sutton ‘53

We had 3 winners of the Best All Around Student Award. This award dates back to the 1950s when it was called the Ernest W. Armstrong award. Beginning in 2013, it became the William Sutton prize, named for Dr. William Sutton who graduated from Dillard University in 1953 and won the Armstrong Best All Around student award, who as a student was class president for 3 years, football captain and science major, who later taught on the faculty for 20 years and served as president of Mississippi Valley State University for 10 years.

Darren Scioneaux. Mass communications major. Mr. Dillard University. President of the Beta Phi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. Internships included Major League Baseball. Eagle Scout. Will be teaching 8th and 9th grade at his high school alma mater, St. Augustine’s High School.

Mariana DuPont. Senior class president. Held office for every class council: Freshmen: Historian, Sophomore: Historian, Junior: Vice President. PODUS Freshman presidential ambassador. Member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. Member of the VisionQuest Mime Ministry. Extensive research experiences through the MARC U-STAR program, the LSU Health Science Center, and the Baylor University College of Medicine. Will attend the University of Alabama Birmingham, and will be a graduate student trainee with a graduate fellowship in the vision science graduate program.

Keona Favis. 4 year member of the Lady Bleu Devils basketball team. PODUS Freshman presidential ambassador. Won my first Diaper Dandy award for outstanding freshman student. Held office in 2 student organizations. 2 year Daktroniks national scholar athlete award winner. Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Will attend Life College in Marietta GA for doctor of chiropractic medicine.

Along with announcing some legacies, graduate school and career moves, I end with unique stories. These are always the most inspiring.

Oscar Garcia. Born in Honduras and moved to New Orleans at the age of 12 with no English whatsoever. During his 7th grade year his teacher told his mom to send him back to Honduras because she thought he wasn’t going to make it in the American school system, but through the assistance of the College Track program that was not going to happen. But maybe she was right, because Oscar is a global citizen who participated in the Melton foundation and has traveled the world, including spending a semester in Chile. So today he graduates as the first Honduran Male from the Political Science department at Dillard, and he is preparing to take the foreign service exam this summer.

Megan Perry-Braden. She’s graduating at what should have been her 10 year reunion, so she calls it her Gradu-union. Her family died her senior year of high school. Enrolled at Dillard early the summer after high school graduation to have a place to live, away from these abusive second cousins she was forced to stay with. Katrina disrupts next as she goes in and out of school. Since then she’s had a career, baby, married, divorced, author of a new book on Snoballs, and now graduating. Next step? She begins graduate school in UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop MFA program as well as the TeachNOLA’s cohort.

Audie Jones. Audie transferred to Dillard 2 and a half years ago after a car accident seven years ago crushed his pelvis, taking him six months to walk again. He has excelled in mass communications, serving as a Junior associate with the Spears Group. He is currently applying to University of Texas at Dallas in the Emerging Media and Communication program while continuing to work at Chase bank.

LaVerne Robertson Davis. What do you call a married 63 year old student, mother of two, grandmother of seven, who finished something she started 42 years ago? Studious Maximus is what her classmates have named her, and she has been a complete student majoring in voice and singing with our renown Collegiate Choir and currently serving as choir president. After completing one year of college she dropped out, and began a career as an administrative assistant, transitioning to entrepreneurial work through Mary Kay Cosmetics. As she told me last weekend she decided to go to Delgado to finish school, and wound up graduating from there, and then decided to finish the next degree, and winds up graduating today.

Mia Malone. Mia is 100% visually impaired, and yet has been one of the most active and faithful members of the concert choir. She makes no excuses and attended all classes. Along the way she has been inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success and the Mu Alpha Theta Honor Society. As with Laverne and all choir students, they are each other’s biggest fans. But as a choir family I have watched many of them guide Mia around campus, during concerts, etc. to ensure she got wherever she needed on time and safely.

Whitney Bonilla. Our 2017 Barker Prize winner for the student that persevered in spite of handicaps, funding, challenges and personal tragedies. She started Dillard as a freshman in 2011 but struggled due to dyslexia and ADHD. Started in nursing but struggled while working 40 hours a week. During sophomore found out she was expecting, delivered her daughter in August of 2013 but caught an infection which required amputation of both hands and feet. She received prosthetics but hesitant about starting school again. But she saw her classmates graduate in May of 2015, and with encouragement of professors they encouraged her- new mother and quadruple amputee which often meant enduring pain with her prosthetics. But here she is, 6 years later, and a college graduate.

Harvard is great, but they don’t know how or want to tell stories like these. No one can tell the story of Black folks like HBCUs, period.

At Dillard, we tell the stories (and this picture is a story on its own).

The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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