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The Tulane University Class of 2022 includes many individuals who have had extraordinary experiences at Tulane and who are getting ready to write the next chapter of their life stories. Here are a few remarkable graduates who have been profiled in the university’s daily e-newsletter, Tulane Today.

Russel Ledet
Russell J. Ledet, who graduated from Tulane School of Medicine and the A. B. Freeman School of Business this year, was the Class of 2022 student speaker at the Unified Commencement Ceremony on May 21. (Photo by Rusty Costanza)

From security guard to doctor, Class of 2022 student speaker proves that ‘anything is possible’

Russell J. Ledet faced and conquered many challenges on his journey to become a doctor.

“Years ago, when I was working as a security guard at a hospital and I saw doctors taking care of people, I thought, maybe this is something that I can explore. So, I started thinking about what I needed to do to become a doctor. I asked a few of the doctors that I saw during my shifts at the hospital if I could shadow them, and I was told that security guards don’t really become doctors — but I didn’t let that stop me.”

At this year’s Commencement, Ledet will receive an MD from the School of Medicine and an MBA from the A. B. Freeman School of Business. Ledet said he decided to apply to be a student speaker at this year’s Unified Commencement ceremony because he knows his unique journey can be an inspiration to many young Black boys and children everywhere.

“I think the main thing that’s going through my head right now is anything is possible,” Ledet said.

Read Ledet’s full profile.

Tran Nguyen Phuong
Tran Nguyen-Phuong, a first-generation college student from Louisiana, is graduating with a Bachelor of Science double majoring in psychology and economics. She held several leadership roles in the Tulane Vietnamese Student Association, served on the board of directors for New Student Orientation, held a Design Thinking student fellowship and conducted research in the economics department. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Graduate learns to ‘keep going’ for herself and others

When Tran Nguyen-Phuong first entered her freshman year at Tulane, she had a rocky and overwhelming transition.

“I went through that phase of ‘This is a new environment. These are new people. Where’s my place? Where do I fit in in this community?’” she said.

Nguyen-Phuong is a first-generation college student from Louisiana graduating with a Bachelor of Science double majoring in psychology and economics. She recounts an interaction at New Student Orientation that was pivotal to the rest of her time at Tulane. She was leaving a workshop hosted by the Center for Academic Equity when one of the program coordinators at the time, Gabriel Rodriguez — who is now a career coach with Newcomb-Tulane College Career Services — asked her a simple but important question: “How are you?”

That interaction inspired her to keep going.

“There are people on this campus who obviously care about me and think I belong here and think I can do this. So, if all these people believe in me, then I should believe in myself,” she reasoned.

Read Nguyen-Phuong’s full profile.

Brett Franklin

Brett Franklin, who is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Arts in political science, steered Tulane’s beloved Crawfest party back to success after COVID-19 derailed it. (Photo by Rusty Costanza)

Crawfest director has a knack for solving problems

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to events and large gatherings in March 2020, just about a month before one of the university’s most anticipated celebrations: Crawfest. As so many other events have been coming back, slowly but surely, since the beginning of the pandemic, Crawfest did so bigger and better than ever under the leadership of executive director and 2022 graduate Brett Franklin. About a year ago, he became the festival’s executive director, an amazing opportunity.

“I’m not aware of many other opportunities to lead a festival the size of Crawfest in the world’s capital of festivals as a 22-year-old college student,” he said.

This year was the first time Crawfest returned to its full form since 2019. It certainly faced many obstacles, including capacity constraints due to heightened demand (welcoming back the class of 2020 as well as nearly three classes that had never experienced a true Crawfest before), as well as increased funding needs and the pandemic itself. However, Franklin and his team pulled it off perfectly with rave reviews.

Read Franklin’s full profile.

Antonio Milton

Antonio Milton set his sights on the legal profession as a child. He capped off his Tulane education by serving as editor of the “Tulane Law Review.” (Photo by Rusty Costanza)

Love of the legal profession started early for law review editor

There was one thing that Antonio Milton was certain of as a young child growing up in Carencro, Louisiana, just outside Lafayette — he wanted to be a lawyer.

As the son of a lawyer, Milton routinely visited his father’s office, where he had a front row seat to the workings of justice.

“I was in first grade, and I’d go to his office to do homework,” said Milton. “I would see him working with clients, representing real people and arguing before the courts. Just seeing him in action had such an impact on me.”

Milton’s love for the law only deepened, and 17 years later, his dream of following in his father’s footsteps came true. On May 22, he received his law degree from Tulane Law School, where among other honors he was elected as the first African American to serve as editor-in-chief of the “Tulane Law Review.”

Read Milton’s full profile.

Nelly Bruce and Mollie Sloter

The 2022 recipients of the Center for Public Service’s Jim Runsdorf Excellence in Public Service Student Award, Mollie Sloter (left) and Ron’Janiele “Nelly” Bruce. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Runsdorf Award winners embody the spirit of public service

Public service is a hallmark of the Tulane student experience; however, some students go above and beyond in achieving the Tulane ideal of excelling academically by using their skills and knowledge in service to the community. Two such students are Ron’Janiele “Nelly” Bruce and Mollie Sloter, the 2022 recipients of the Jim Runsdorf Excellence in Public Service Student Award.

At Tulane, Bruce got involved with the CPS Student Leadership Programs, was a Weatherhead Scholar and a Newman Civic Fellow, devoting herself to creating lasting change for other students, especially those who have experienced similar struggles to her own as a Black queer woman. She also worked tirelessly to spread knowledge about local organizations doing crucial work that promotes equity and justice in the Greater New Orleans area.

After coming to Tulane, Sloter got involved with Outreach Tulane, volunteering during her freshman and sophomore years, becoming community partners coordinator her junior year and eventually becoming chair of the executive board during her senior year. In her leadership roles on campus, she has guided other students through major days of service, even during the height of the pandemic.

Read the full profile.

Alex, Robert, Ashton

Law graduate Robert Morris (center) says one of the best parts of law school has been having his twin boys (Alex, left, and Ashton, right) get to know his Tulane Law community. (Photo credit: Norward Sears)

Tulane Law dad, twin boys got through law school together

Taking a risk mid-career to go to law school, Robert Morris, single dad, journalist and passionate advocate for the disadvantaged thought his hardest days ahead would likely be balancing the responsibilities of raising twin teenage boys with his legal studies.

That was the fall of 2019. By spring, the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone to work and learn in their homes, Tulane Law School’s 200-plus first-year law students along with them.

“We all just hung in there, with the boys and I doing classes online, and we all did a lot of studying outside,” said Morris, who graduated in May in the law school’s 171st graduation ceremonies.

“People ask me how I did it with two kids, but I honestly don’t know how I would have done it without them.”

Read the full profile on Morris.

Allie Pear

Allie Pear, whose great-grandfather, grandmother and mother preceded her at Tulane, charted her own path on campus. She graduates this year with a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in accounting from A. B. Freeman School of Business. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Fourth-generation Tulanian was (almost) all business on campus

Tulane University was a family tradition for finance major Allie Pear, who studied at the A. B. Freeman School of Business. Now, after only four years, Pear is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in accounting, and many memories of an active campus life.

Pear was preceded at Tulane by her great-grandfather, grandmother and mother, making her a fourth-generation Tulanian. But the campus experience seemed wide open when she arrived.

“I just wanted to be as involved as possible and get to meet as many people as I could,” she said. “I’ve tried to be … open-minded about joining different programs, putting myself out there. Also, not being afraid to try something, regardless if it didn’t work out the first time.”

Read Pear’s full profile.

Xavier Colfee

Xavier Calfee defied expectations when he enrolled in the School of Professional Advancement. Now he will earn a master’s degree, as a member of Tulane 34. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Graduate student gets last laugh with master’s degree from Tulane

Xavier Calfee is a husband, father of three boys, a full-time instructor at the Richmond Technical Center in Richmond, Virginia, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and vice president of Tulane’s new Student Veterans of America chapter. In May, Calfee added the title of Tulane graduate to the mix when he received his master’s degree in Information Technology Management and graduate certificate in cybersecurity from Tulane’s School of Professional Advancement. A Virginia resident, Calfee earned his degree online and also received the prestigious Tulane 34 Award.

Calfee’s path to Tulane began many years ago as a high schooler in Newport News, Virginia. He informed his counselor he wanted to attend Tulane University. The counselor laughed him right out of her office, which became a defining moment in Calfee’s life.

Calfee plans to continue working in an information technology capacity but says he will not limit himself to just being a “knob turner.” He plans to further his education and eventually give back by teaching and mentoring others.

“Tulane is a special place, and I would scream (it) from the mountaintops. I felt that every instructor genuinely had my best interest at heart, and I have made lifelong friendships and felt welcomed at every venue. My love for Tulane will not go away,” Calfee said.

Read Calfee’s full profile.

Layla Babahaji
Layla Babahaji will earn a master’s degree in public health, with which she hopes to improve healthcare access for the New Orleans community. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Public health graduate channels passions for language and health equity

Layla Babahaji is no stranger to public service — she received the Trailblazer Award, the Leader in Service Award and the Gifford Darling Reiss Newcomb Award for her commitment to others last year at the time of her graduation from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health. This year she earned a master’s degree from the School of Public Health as well.

Growing up in Dallas, Babahaji spoke four languages at home — English, French, Spanish and Farsi. With parents from Iran and Morocco, she realized the impact of language proficiency in migrant populations, particularly in healthcare settings. She didn’t know exactly how to channel her health equity interests until discovering public health at Tulane.

“Tulane pushed for the importance of public service, and I believed in amplifying the voices of people in the community,” Babahaji said.

Read Babahaji’s full profile.

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