Since the University’s doors first opened in 1925, consecutive generations of one family have formed an unbreakable and moving legacy of attending Southeastern.
BY CALMER DIGHTON
Almost 100 years ago, in 1926, the first class graduated from Southeastern. Since then, over 75,000 people have earned their degree and joined them as Southeastern alumni. For one family, following in these footsteps and attending Southeastern has become a tradition characterized by excellence, dating all the way back to that first graduating class.
Leigh Henderson, a class of 2021 marketing major currently working on her MBA at Southeastern, is the great-great-granddaughter of Dorothy Snell Bonicard. Dorothy earned her two-year teaching certificate in 1926 as a member of the first graduating class at what was then called Hammond Junior College. According to Scott Henderson, Leigh’s father and a fellow Southeastern alum, “Dorothy was inspired to
attend Southeastern to become a teacher while still having the opportunity to be close to her community of Ponchatoula.” Since Dorothy graduated, five generations have attended Southeastern, with 18 family members earning degrees from the University.
So what inspired these generations to continue the legacy of attending Southeastern? Leigh answered, “I am big on tradition. I am also a member of the fifth generation to attend Saint Joseph and Ponchatoula High School. All of my family went to Southeastern, so it only made sense to me to continue that tradition. My parents married while attending Southeastern in their senior year, and it was the first place they lived together in the on-campus married housing. My grandmother, Trudy Bonicard Henderson, attended the University for an education degree. While she never completed her degree, she spoke highly of the faculty, especially the College of Business. That and the ability to
stay within my community were a big impact on me choosing Southeastern, but being able to continue building the legacy of attending Southeastern was a big deal to me.”
Trudy Henderson, the granddaughter of Dorothy and grandmother of Leigh, said she was inspired to attend Southeastern by Dorothy. “Grandma Bonicard wanted me to go to Southeastern. She strongly encouraged me, but did not press me to choose a specific major. That was for me to decide. She encouraged me to choose between education, nursing, business education, and accounting.”
Dorothy graduated from Hammond Junior College with the first graduating class. When the requirements for teacher certification changed to a four-year degree, rather than quit teaching and stay at home, Dorothy decided to return to school to meet the new requirements by earning a bachelor’s degree. Scott emphasized the importance of this decision to the family.
“Dorothy returned to Southeastern and earned her four-year certification, all while keeping a family and working. Her return to Southeastern is equally impressive to our family as her being a member of the first graduating class. The fact that she balanced school, family, and a job while completing the four-year requirements inspired me to attend Southeastern.”
Dorothy had an interesting set of events that ultimately led her to attend Southeastern. Trudy shared, “This is a funny story, she actually attended college in North Louisiana at first, and while there, she decided she wanted to become a pharmacist. When she came home from college, her father (O.C. Snell) read her report card and challenged her on why she was taking classes to become a pharmacist, which he had told her she could not be. He then made her return home, where she attended Southeastern and changed her major to education. As an interesting side note, in 1941, she, my grandfather, my father, and my aunt moved up to Connecticut for one year to work in a munitions factory supporting the war effort. Who knows what would have happened if she had become a pharmacist or even stayed up north in Connecticut, but one thing is for sure, our rich family history at Southeastern may never have been.”
Scott was one of the last Southeastern ROTC cadets to be commissioned before the program took its hiatus in 1995. “As a member of the ROTC program, I was able to compete with the ranger challenge team, a varsity sports team that competed against other schools in the South like LSU and Alabama,” he said. “That built a lot of my college experience. I still keep in touch with a handful of friends today who were a part of that program and were commissioned into the Army with me. During my junior year, Dr. Sally Clausen became the University president. The University was going through growth in so many ways, and Dr. Clausen was unique in how she engaged directly with the student leaders. ROTC was not always recognized as a sport, but she recognized it as a sport and brought other student leaders and me to a round table to be heard.”
Scott still connects with Southeastern through the now-reinstated ROTC program. “Since the program started up again, I have been able to attend events like the ROTC alumni dinner. It was nice to be able to meet other legacy officers, as well as the new cadets.”
When asked what being a Southeastern graduate meant to her, Leigh heartfeltly answered. “It means family, and not just my own birth family, but also the family I made at Southeastern. When I started cheering for Southeastern, I made connections quickly. The people I got to know on the cheer team are some of the same people I will probably have standing in my wedding.”
Scott added, “Being a Southeastern graduate means being a deeper member of the community, representing higher education and achievement in this community.”
To Leigh, being a fifth-generation attendee of Southeastern and carrying on the family legacy in such a beneficial, enriching way is particularly meaningful—invoking an inseparable link throughout her own family and the University she loves so dearly.
“Knowing that I have gone through something five generations of my family have gone through is an incredible feeling,” Leigh said. “Southeastern has the same effect on people who attend today as it did back almost 100 years ago.”