Belton encourages GSU graduates to build support system while running game of life

by T. Scott Boatright | Office of Communications

GRAMBLING, La. – December 15, 2021 – Keynote speaker John Belton, Louisiana Third Judicial Attorney (Ruston and Lincoln parishes) encouraged new graduates to run full force into life and their dreams while also making sure they have a strong support system surrounding them as he spoke during Grambling State University’s fall commencement exercises Wednesday at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center.

Wednesday’s ceremonies were for GSU graduate students, with one doctoral degree in Developmental Education being conferred upon Cheri M. Hodges of Raleigh, North Carolina.

During his speech on Wednesday, Belton first told the graduates about the importance of living out their dreams.

“What you all have accomplished today, becoming part of the minority that have college degrees, makes you exceptional,” Belton said. “You are remarkable. Just as you live better lives because of remarkable people before you. When you drove here today, you lived the dream of Henry Ford. When you travel by air, you live the dream of the Wright Brothers. When you use your I-phone or your cell phone, you live the dream of Steve Jobs. And as we sit together in this room, with black and white — with different backgrounds — you live the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

“But more importantly, today we’re living your dream — your dream of accomplishing one of the major goals in your life, and that is obtaining your college degree.”

Belton then encouraged the crowd to rise and give a standing ovation to the graduating class before telling them a story about an obstacle he overcame while running toward his own dreams.

“When I was born, I was born with crooked legs,” Belton said. “I had a condition that affects the lower part of your legs and is more common among African American children than any other race. I couldn’t walk or run like other kids. So my dream was to be able to run. My uncle, a policeman who probably started my dream of being part of law enforcement, gave me the nickname ‘Crooked’ because of the braces I wore on my legs. Thank goodness the nickname didn’t stick, or I’d be called a crooked politician or D.A. I remember there were adults — yes adults — who picked on me and called me ugly names. The old adage ‘sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you’ is a lie straight from Hell. Because words do hurt.”

“My mother was a school teacher and was very encouraging, telling me to love my neighbor. That’s hard to understand when you’re young. It’s even harder as an adult. You’ve accomplished a lot already, but you’ll accomplish more in the future. In order to be successful, you need to be around positive influences. You need to be around an atmosphere of positive reinforcement. This university has a board of supervisors. Fortune 500 companies have boards of supervisors. And I encourage you as you move forward to create your own board of supervisors — mentors — to help you reach your successes in life.”

Belton then went on to tell the graduates that because of the support he received from his parents and other mentors, his legs healed, as he became able to walk, and then run, before eventually helping him become an all-state high school football player and then a running back for McNeese State University.

“I am the Black ‘Forest Gump.’ Run John, Run. Run Dr. Gallot, Run. Run graduates, run.” Belton jokingly said.

With only 76 graduates picking up degrees during Wednesday’s commencement for graduate students, the crowd inside the assembly center was small, but still supportive. Letresha Armstrong-Jones of Shreveport received a brief but strong two-person standing ovation from her mother Vickie Jones and aunt Tina Davis as she picked up her diploma.

“It was wonderful to see. I’m just so happy for my daughter,” Jones said. “The pandemic did not defeat her. She faced it and still achieved her goal.”

GSU alumna Andra Richards, from Dominica, was on hand to congratulate her fellow Dominican Sandra R. Toussaint, who picked up her Master’s of Public Administration degree.

“I graduated earlier this year and still live in the area and came to show my support,” Richards said. ”We’re from the same country. And international students here at Grambling are close. We have a bond, because we are considered the minority here.”

GSU’s 2021 fall commencement exercises will continue at 9 a.m. on both Thursday and Friday at the Hobdy Assembly Center. For more information, visit