Louisiana Rep. Julie Stokes, the state lawmaker, CPA and small business owner who has earned admiration across the political spectrum for her tenacity and principled leadership, was one of seven University of New Orleans alumni honored Thursday at the Distinguished Alumni Gala at the National WWII Museum. Stokes is the 34th recipient of the Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Alumni Award. UNO’s academic colleges, interdisciplinary studies and athletics also bestowed distinguished alumni honors on six other graduates.
Approximately 500 attendees, many of whom wore the silver and blue of their alma mater, gathered in in the dramatic surroundings of the United States Freedom Pavilion to celebrate the successes of the University and the achievements of its graduates.
“The University of New Orleans has more than 45,000 alumni in the metro area alone,” President John Nicklow said. “Think about that for a second. Our graduates are leaders and innovators in every corner of the economy. And not just a few. Thousands of them. The Privateer influence in this region is pervasive and profound.”
In addition to headliner Stokes, the UNO Alumni Association also honored property tax executive John Stockmeyer (College of Business Administration), Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System CEO Fernando Rivera (College of Engineering), U.S. Marshall Genny May (College of Liberal Arts, Education and Human Development), dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Dr. Terence Flotte (College of Sciences), Cumulus Media regional vice president Pat Galloway (interdisciplinary studies), and retired telecommunications executive Skip Miller (athletics).
Former Homer Hitt Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Clancy Dubos, who is the chairman of Gambit Communications, and Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vranken introduced Stokes with personal anecdotes that illustrated the Kenner native’s independence, preparation and conviction.
Stokes talked about the rigorous accounting training she received at UNO and the enduring support of her Alpha Xi Delta sorority sisters, many of whom cheered her on enthusiastically from the audience.
“UNO gave me the chance to take my first meaningful stab at leadership,” said Stokes, who graduated from UNO in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “If I would have gone to any other school, I might not have had the means or the confidence to do it.”
Stokes was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, forcing her to drop out of the race for state Treasurer. She called it “the hardest professional choice that I have ever had to make.” After a second round of chemotherapy, she said, the cancer is shrinking so much that it is almost undetectable. “After my final two treatments, over the coming weeks, I feel confident that cancer will be history.”
Stokes left the audience with a few pithy life lessons.
“Success is not linear. There will be failure along the way. Be your best self and when it is scary, do it afraid.”
Emcee Mark Romig, the 2016 Homer Hitt Award winner and the public address announcer for the New Orleans Saints, punctuated Stokes’ remarks with a rousing “Touchdown Julie!”
The program also included remarks from Victoria White, the chair of the Distinguished Alumna Gala, and Becky Mackie, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the National WWII Museum. Mackie, herself a UNO alumna, reminded the audience that the museum had been conceived by two former UNO professors—Stephen Ambrose and Gordon “Nick” Mueller. The museum is now the most visited tourist attraction in New Orleans.