Two posthumous degrees awarded during GSU Spring commencement

The family of the late Natalie Desselle Reid is pictured with Grambling State President Rick Gallot at the Spring 2022 commencement exercises. Reid was awarded a posthumous honorary bachelor’s degree during the event.

by T. Scott Boatright | Office of Communications

GRAMBLING, La.— It was a celebration of a lifetime for new Grambling State University graduates as they were awarded their degrees Thursday afternoon in the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center.

But there was a solemn and poignant moment before degrees were conferred as deceased GSU students were honored with posthumous degrees.

Those students were Natalie Desselle Reid, who passed away on Dec. 7, 2021 after a long battle with cancer; and Zaria Griffith, who was a current GSU student when she died of injuries suffered in a car accident on Nov. 26 of last year.

A native of Alexandria, Louisiana, actress Natalie Desselle Reid graduated from Peabody Magnet High School and attended Grambling State University for 2 1/2 years. The acting bug bit her after a starring role in Grambling State’s production of “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” After several productions as a thespian, she decided to move to Los Angeles and test the waters. Realizing Hollywood was not aware of her “arrival,” she became a receptionist, a soul food waitress, and lastly a tank mechanic at McDonnell Douglas.

Her break came when Robi Reed cast her in F. Gary Gray’s “Set It Off” which led to a guest-starring role on television’s “Family Matters.” After her initial foray into Hollywood, she found herself looking for opportunities while living in Inglewood, California, and then the call came. The role that established her as a comedic thespian aka “the funny chick” in Robert Townsend’s” B.A.P.S,” starring opposite Halle Berry. The films “How to be a Player,” “Cinderella” and television shows “Built to Last” and “For Your Love” followed.

In the 2000s, she played Janie Egins on the television show “Eve” for three seasons, and had one of her last film roles in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (2011). Her most cherished production was her family, which included her husband Lenny Reid and their three children Sereno, Summer, and Sasha.

Desselle Reid’s family was present to receive the honorary Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual and Performing Arts that was given in her memory.

Larry Lenny Reid first congratulated GSU’s spring 2022 graduates and thanked President Rick Gallot for thinking of his wife and her family before making his remarks on the honorary degree being presented in his wife’s memory.

“I offer thanks on behalf of our families — the Reids and Desselles — for helping to keep her spirit alive and we are honored to be receiving this posthumous degree and allowing us to partake in this momentous event,” Reid said. “Despite having many roles in Hollywood, Grambling helped her play one of her most pivotal roles — it gave her the confidence after only two years chose to leave the university and fulfill her destiny.”

He then read a short quote from one of his wife’s most favorite books, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, which leads with the opening line, “Go confidently into your dreams.”

The family of the late Zaria Griffith is pictured with Grambling State President Rick Gallot at the Spring 2022 commencement exercises. Reid was awarded a posthumous bachelor’s degree during the event.

A native of Chicago, Griffith graduated from South Shore International College Preparatory High School in 2017 where she was an honor student who excelled at ROTC, tumbling, gymnastics and cheerleading. As a natural-born leader, Zaria served as captain of the cheer squad and led her peers on the mat and in the classroom. During her high school career, her interest in the health profession led her to participate in the medical program where she obtained her phlebotomy license upon graduation.

She attended Central State University and continued her love for cheerleading as a member of the university cheer team where she bonded with her Cheer-Phi members. In 2018, she transferred to her first choice school, Grambling State University. She was a proud Tiger participating as a Grambassador and Senior Associate Justice for the Student Government Association.

Griffith excelled academically, making the Dean’s List every semester.

Her family was presented with a posthumous Bachelor of Science degree in Biology in her memory.

“She transitioned in November only a few hours short of completing her degree,” Gallot said before asking Griffith’s family to come to the stage. “We offer our sincere sympathies to the Griffith family and loved ones as we continue to pray for you today.”

Cries of “We love you, Zaria” coming from GSU graduates echoed through the Hobdy Assembly Center as Griffith’s family walked onto the stage to a standing ovation.

“I just want to thank Grambling [State] University for helping us get through during this transition,” Griffith’s father Cedric said, pausing to choke back tears as he spoke. “I want to thank President Gallot and his staff for all of the calls and prayers. I’m so proud of Zaria and what she accomplished. And I’m just as proud of the graduates here today, too. I know Zaria would love to be sitting with you today, but sometimes things just don’t turn out right. Y’all have the chance to continue and live your dreams. Thank you.”

The crowd at the Hobdy Assembly responded with a second standing ovation as the Griffith family left the stage.