Sharon Lavigne: 2022 Laetare Address

Author: Notre Dame News

Good morning.

I am beyond honored and humbled to be here with you today, receiving such a prestigious award. Laetare Medal Award. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your commencement weekend. Congratulations to the graduates, faculty, and staff.

When Louisiana comes to mind, most people think of New Orleans and Mardi Gras.

But as a lifelong resident of the smaller, lesser-known St. James Parish, I can honestly say Louisiana means much more to me. It means family and friends. It means culture and tasty food. It also means community and faith.

And those are the things I have been called to protect. For myself, my children, my grandchildren, the neighbors, and friends I have known over the years.

Faith has always been a large part of my life. My father Milton Cayette, Sr. was a god-fearing man and instilled those values into all of his children. Our family prayed the rosary every day at 5pm. And we went to church every Sunday.

I was taught early on by my father that prayer changes things. He modeled that belief throughout his life, especially when he changed the face of St James Parish in 1966 when he integrated St. James High School.

As an ambassador of change, I feel that I have been called to honor my father and represent our heavenly father in the earthly realm. And that’s what motivated me to found RISE St. James, a faith based, grassroots, nonprofit organization fighting for clean air and water, and stopping the expansion of petrochemical industries in St. James Parish. I was no longer willing to sit idly by while my community, part of what is known as “Cancer Alley”, grew sicker. While my family and friends and low income families of color suffered due to toxic emissions and cancer-causing chemicals released by these industries. That meant going up against major companies such as Formosa Plastics and Wanhua Chemicals, but compelled by my belief in my community and strengthened by my faith, I pushed forward in my calling to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

As I stand here today, to you, the students, the next generation, I hope you all never doubt that you are called, too. Called to demonstrate his greatness through your lifestyle, to influence the world around you. As you celebrate today and move forward in your paths, remember you are called to be a world class leader within your sphere of influence. Do not let circumstances distract you from fulfilling your purpose.

May God bless each one of you and may God protect our environment, land and nature.

Congratulations again to the students, continue to walk in faith and trust your path as you work towards your goals.

Thank you, Notre Dame, for allowing me to celebrate with you, your faculty, and staff.

Thank you for choosing me to receive the 2022 Laetare Medal. I will continue to fight for the lives of the St. James Parish communities, following my faith and trusting God’s plan.

Remember, happy is the one who learns to wait as he prays and never loses his patience. God’s time is the right time because it will change the state of the world.

Thank you.