Leaders rally behind recent graduates at 2023 Girls’ Brunch

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, June 21, 2023

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LAPLACE — Young ladies who recently graduated from high school found a sea of support from local leaders during the Class of 2023 Girls’ Brunch presented June 16 by Voice of Truth Fellowship Church in LaPlace.

“Everybody you see in this room today is backing you. We are behind you. We believe in you,” said Pastor Laurie T. Parker. “We know that you are not here just to be here. We know that you are here for a purpose and that you are here on purpose. Every step of the way, we are with you.”

Surrounded by educators and local leaders, Parker reminded the young ladies that they are never alone. She compared obstacles in life to dams blocking water; having a support system mirrors the powerful flow of a river, strong enough to break through every blockage.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said Parker has always been a positive force in the community when it comes to reaching the youth.

“Pastor Laurie has always had a passion to reach back and pour into young girls, and it’s no surprise that she has continued to do that now,” she said.

Hotard shared how life’s course took her away from school to focus on raising her daughter. In 2012, she decided to go back to school, starting out at River Parishes Community College before transferring to Southeastern to complete her degree. Her one regret is not walking across the stage to obtain her diploma.

“There will be moments in your life that sometimes you don’t want to share because you have a little bit of embarrassment on the inside. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t share that moment, you will regret it. Don’t feel like anything you do is small,” Hotard said.

Hotard’s journey continued as she enrolled in law school at Southern University. Her studies paused after she was elected parish president, but her story is far from over.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it is never over,” Hotard told the recent graduates. “It will always be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”

She also reminded the girls to surround themselves with support by saying, “When you get where you are going, bring somebody with you.”

Superintendent Rebecca Johnson also shared her journey, which involved working her way up from an uncertified teacher to principal of the same school. She found a mentor and followed her to the state Department of Education, and it was that same mentor who encouraged her to apply for the superintendent position in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Today, Johnson lives in Lafourche Parish with a wonderful husband and two daughters who support her passion for education and understand that a big part of her life is in St. John Parish.

Johnson told recent graduates to lean on the women in the room, stating, “We are powerful enough to do anything we want to do.”

She was also inspired by East St. John’s Class of 2023 motto, a quote from Maya Angelou: “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”

“By shining your own light, may you continue to illuminate the path of others as well,” Johnson said. “Whatever you do, make sure it makes you happy. If you’re not happy, it’s harder for that light to shine from within.”

Other special guests present to share words of advice included Rachel Chaney, supervisor of high school curriculum, assessment and instruction; Heather Reese, John L. Ory Principal; Danielle Johnson Davis, second grade teacher at Fifth Ward Elementary; Iesha Taylor, owner of Kids of Distinction Christian Learning Academy and The Red Carpet Boutique; Whitney Braud, second grade teacher at LaPlace Elementary; Angela Taylor, professional school counselor; Ryshique Williams, LPN and special education teacher at East St. John High School; and Harmony Hamilton, youth group leader and UX content strategist.

Parker is thankful to the sponsors in the community that made the Class of 2023 Girls’ Brunch possible.

“When it is something good, people will buy into it. When it is to benefit somebody else, people will buy into it,” she said.