Honors Graduates Revel in Their Time as Tigers
The atmosphere was practically electric on Milan Stokes‘ final day as an LSU undergrad, alive with the spirit that first attracted her to campus from Long Beach, California.
Despite her six-foot frame and megawatt smile, Stokes was hard to find among a crowd of graduates and celebrating families on a spring Friday that rivaled a fall Saturday on campus.
But there she was, outside the LSU Volleyball locker room on the south side of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, reveling in the moment.
“There’s such triumph in the air,” she said. “Not just for you, but for everyone. It’s a really big celebration, and everyone’s a part of it.”
No matter its size, Stokes stands out in any crowd, literally and figuratively. She is among an elite class of LSU student-athletes who graduated in May with honors, excelling in competition and in the classroom.
The week before graduation, several of those student-athletes – including Beach Volleyball’s Jennifer Clark and Megan Davenport, Swimming’s Jane MacDougall, and Stokes, a three-year letter winner for Volleyball – sat down with athletic director Scott Woodward and LSU’s senior administration for breakfast, discussing their futures and how LSU has provided a platform for them as they move forward after graduation.
More than 100 student-athletes will earn their degrees this weekend. AD Scott Woodward met with our student-athletes that earned University Latin honors.
— LSU Tigers (@LSUsports) May 9, 2019
Their stories all intersected during their times at LSU. But they originate from, and are bound for, destinations scattered across the continent.
Megan Davenport: Globe-Trotting “Money Psychologist”
Davenport, a New Orleans native, traveled the least distance to begin her undergraduate career, but perhaps no one has seen more of the world since starting college. A high school indoor volleyball player at Mount Caramel, she started playing beach recreationally in high school.
When LSU announced its program in 2013, she jumped at the chance to play in college, while studying to become a financial advisor.
“Growing up in New Orleans, it’s just a thing: you want to go to LSU, you’re a Tiger fan from birth,” she says. “It’s a cultural thing, I think. I always wanted to go to LSU. When the opportunity presented itself for me to play beach, it was a dream come true. I didn’t think it was real. To go to the number one school you always wanted to go to and play the sport you love, it’s surreal.”
Over four years, Davenport racked up 70 wins, and she finished her senior year seeing the program reach historic heights with its third-place finish at the NCAA Championships. She also graduated Magnum Cum Laude in history, with minors in psychology and sociology.
Her reasoning was simple: she studied the past to plan for the future.
“I’m going to be a financial advisor with New York Life,” she says. “Studying history, you learn about people, how people work. That’s complementary with sociology and psychology.
“A lot of people in financial advising talk about it being a ‘money psychologist,’ because you’re helping people and working with people, setting up a future for themselves. It’s hard to do that job without being a people person. You want the trust of your clients.”
That career path was particularly appealing to Davenport, because it’s the same one her parents pursued while raising her.
“I like that they were not only able to impact people’s lives, but they were also able to be a part of mine,” she says.
Davenport also plans to pursue a professional beach volleyball career before diving into New York Life full time. She also plans to continue traveling, a passion that took her to 13 different countries last summer while studying abroad in Austria. She’s documented her journeys on Instagram – @megdav_productions – and hopes to visit Turks and Caicos, Rome, and Spain this summer, before a February trip to Asia.
“I love to travel,” she says. “That’s my constant in life. I never want to stop traveling, I never want to stop seeing the world. We live in an incredible world, and I want to see as much as I can of it.”
There’s plenty more to see for Davenport, but as many times as she leaves home, she plans to always come back.
“To leave LSU having so many people I care about and care about me, it’s incredible that so many people can be one and be a huge a family,” she says.
Jane MacDougall: Special Educator
It was perfect timing for MacDougall, a Cum Laude graduate in Education.
After years of swimming, MacDougall needed a new source of inspiration to help her through the grueling workouts and school-sport balance.
In volunteering as a coach for the Special Olympics, she found exactly that.
“Swimming for so long, sometimes it gets hard to keep going with it,” MacDougall says. “When I was doing that, it made me love swimming more. It made me realize how much I put into the sport and how much I knew about it, and it was so fun to share that with people.”
A native of Winnipeg who has made the 25-hour drive from Manitoba to Louisiana more than once, MacDougall found a home and a calling in Baton Rouge.
She knew she wanted to teach, but it was after a couple of years at LSU that she realized she wanted to go into special education. Coaching swimming at the Special Olympics was her way of dipping her toes in the waters, to see if she had the aptitude to match her passion.
“Coaching was different, but very fun with Special Olympics,” she says. “It’s very light-hearted, everyone’s cheering all the time. It’s just very fun.
“After I did that, I knew I would love teaching.”
After four years of swimming for the Tigers, MacDougall spent this year focusing solely on completing her degree. That included 40 hours a week of student teaching. She spent half of her time in inclusion courses, where special education students are mixed in with the general population, and the other half in self-contained classrooms.
“I liked the inclusion, but I really liked self-contained. It was students with more profound disability, and it was just very different than what I originally thought,” she says.
Working closely with a handful of students offered MacDougall the intimacy and hands-on opportunities that mesh best with her outgoing personality. She radiates joy, especially when her students reach critical milestones.
“I think I’m suited to it,” she says. “I think you like doing things you feel like you’re excelling at, and I find that I think I’m patient enough to deal with it. I think I like special ed more, because you get that relationship with the child. Not that you don’t get it in a regular classroom, but you’re so one-on-one, and you’re so close to that kid, you get to see everything. When they say certain words or learn how to add properly, the first time they do that, you’re always going to be there for that, and I think it’s really rewarding.”
Jeni Clark: Cali Triplet Bound for Big Four Firm
For most of her life, Clark never imagined leaving California for college.
San Diego is a beautiful place, but her bonds to home were biologically strong, too.
Clark is a triplet, and she grew up side-by-side with her brother, Ian, and her sister, Kimi, always thinking she’d stay in-state for school.
“I never thought I would leave California,” Clark says. “I had never even heard of LSU before.”
But Beach Volleyball, ironically, brought her to the bayous. After emailing all 40 programs during her prep career, Clark did a four-day, five-school trip of the South while trying to find her next home.
“It was a lot of schools in a short amount of time, but LSU beat all of them out,” Clark says. “I just kept comparing those other schools to LSU, and that’s when I knew LSU was a place for me. I had never experienced any type of school spirit that came close to the LSU community, especially being from California, where there’s a lot of different schools to go to. In Louisiana, the main school is LSU.”
It was LSU’s facilities, both athletically and academically, that stood alongside its school spirit in Clark’s mind. She planned to major in either finance or accounting, settling on the former and graduating in May with Summa Cum Laude honors from the E.J. Ourso College of Business.
“I was blown away by the facilities, academically and athletically,” Clark says. “I put a lot of focus on my academic endeavors. Professionally, I knew I didn’t want to play volleyball. I knew I wanted a job in finance. The finance department at LSU is world-class. The business complex is incredible. It was such a well-rounded choice for me, so it was quite obvious after I laid out all the pros and cons.”
While helping the team transform into one of the elite Beach Volleyball programs in the country, Clark also found herself bound for a career with one of the elite accounting firms in the country. Last summer, she completed an eight-week internship with Ernst & Young in Houston, and she’s accepted the same position as a full-time role beginning in August.
“It was so easy to talk to them in my interviews, because they were so interested in the sport of beach volleyball,” Clark says. “They were so interested in the fact that I was from Southern California and ended up at LSU.
“I think that really helped me a lot, having such a well-structured work ethic and school-life balance. They were very impressed by that. I owe it all to LSU Athletics and the support they give us. It’s basically unlimited tutors for whatever classes you want. I knew when I finished my internship with EY that I would start my professional career with them.”
Clark plans to spend a month this summer with her siblings in Europe before returning to California for a month at home. Then, it’s off to Houston, where she already feels welcome, thanks to both the summer internship and the large group of Tigers stationed in the heart of Texas.
“It’s quite a niche position,” she says. “It’s only offered in their New York and Houston offices, and one office in Bangalore. It worked out, because a lot of LSU alumni and LSU athletic alumni live in Houston. I knew I would still feel at home. I definitely wouldn’t feel so at home in these places I’d never been to before if it wasn’t for such a spirited and loving community that LSU is.”
Milan Stokes: Aspiring Lawyer with a Novel Hobby
When she was 11, Stokes fell in love.
The book was about fairies, and after reading it, she ordered the next seven books in the series. It took her just three days to finish those, and in the years since, her passion for books has never faltered.
Stokes, a Cum Laude graduate in English, is an aspiring novelist who graduated in three years and plans to return to LSU in the fall for her final year of eligibility in volleyball. She’s been writing since she was 13 – and writing well for a shorter span.
“This one story was online for a little bit,” she laughs. “We don’t talk about that.”
At 15, Stokes conceived of an idea for a young adult novel, and she filled the pages of her favorite notebook with it and other stories. She kept that notebook with her at all times until this year, when disaster struck.
“Someone took my backpack this year,” Stokes says. “That had my writing notebook in it, which had every single article of writing I’ve had since I was a teenager. They took everything I’d worked on. So I had to ask myself, ‘You could stop writing right now and find another hobby, or you could start from scratch.’ I guess because I love writing too much, I decided to start over.”
Now, Stokes has a new notebook, and she’s working on drafts for her book. In the meantime, she’s become a mainstay for Fran Flory‘s volleyball squad, finishing third on the team with 167 kills in 2018. From the start, Flory and Stokes connected in the recruitment process.
“She was such a kind spirit,” Stokes says. “She was so different from so many of the other coaches I was talking to. She really cared about my post-college interests as well as what I wanted to do in college. That really appealed to me, the fact that I wasn’t just a volleyball player.”
Stokes will be back on campus in the fall for her final season, studying Leadership and Human Resource Development. After that, she is planning for law school, with her sights set on becoming an entertainment lawyer.
“I want to stay close to books and movies,” she says. “I want to write on the side, and get that novel out.”