By Benjamin Bates
Xavier University of Louisiana held its 91st Annual Graduation Ceremony Saturday, May 12th at 10 a.m. in the University’s Convocation Center.
Award-Winning New York Times investigative Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones addressed some 550 undergraduate, graduate, and pre-professional students and their families at the commencement. She was joined by Xavier University of Louisiana President Reynold Verret in honoring Dr. Norman C. Francis, President Emeritus of the University, who was awarded an Honorary Degree from his alma mater.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, has been a staff writer for The New York Times since 2015, is known for her long-form writing style and her investigative coverage of civil rights, education, fair housing, school segregation, and discrimination in the United States.
Hannah-Jones has a Xavier connection, having penned a landmark piece for The New York Times magazine on Xavier’s Premed Program, “A Prescription for More Black Doctors,” which appeared in September 2015. She also helped to edit a new book by one of the Xavier-educated physicians featured in that piece (Dr. Pierre Johnson ’02) and two of his associates, “Pulse of Perseverance,” which was published earlier this year.
Norman C. Francis Receives Honorary Degree
During his long tenure as President, Dr. Norman C. Francis and Xavier University of Louisiana were virtually synonymous.
As the leader of the nation’s only Historically Black and Catholic University, Francis guided Xavier’s growth. During his 46-year presidency of Xavier University the enrollment more than doubled, broadened its curriculum, expanded its campus, and strengthened its financial base. Its tradition of academic excellence was further enhanced.
“The Norman Francis era at Xavier will not be remembered solely for its longevity, but also revered for the success, immense change and growth, triumph, and opportunities it produced,” said Xavier University of Louisiana President Dr. Reynold Verret. “On his watch Xavier saw its national reputation as a leader in higher education explode, and thousands of graduates benefited, becoming submersed into a unique educational experience that embraced their potential and allowed them to pursue their dreams.”
Francis, himself a Xavier graduate (1952), was at one time the longest-sitting university president in the U.S. Francis was named Xavier “President Emeritus” in 2015. Through his leadership, the University instituted a core curriculum and mandatory comprehensives, and became recognized nationally as a leader in minority education, particularly in the STEM areas. Among the major accomplishments of Francis’ tenure was the successful completion of several capital campaigns. Giving by alumni also increased dramatically. He is credited with being the catalyst for nearly every building constructed on the campus during a period of four decades.
Francis also enjoyed a prestigious personal reputation. He served in an advisory role to eight U.S. Presidential Administrations – not only on education issues, but civil rights as well – in addition to serving on 54 boards and commissions. In 2006 then-President George W. Bush presented him with the nation’s highest civil award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2009 he was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News Media Group and the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy’s School of Government.
“To these accomplishments Dr. Verret adds, “Today, Xavier sits at the edge of its tomorrow. We remain the #1 producer of African American students who complete medical degrees, are recognized as the #2 HBCU in America, and continue to expand our academic offerings to meet the changing needs of today’s students. All of this is done while we continue to honor our founding mission of contributing to the promotion of a just and humane society.”
Xavier University has been atop many lists for its educational excellence including best value among southern regional colleges and universities in the 2018 edition of “Best Colleges” by the U.S. News Media Group. Xavier also ranked No.1 in its grouping, heading the list of only 15 schools that qualified for the Southern Region Category listed under “Great Schools, Great Prices.”