Fifty-one years ago, Sam Houston State Teachers College senior Jon J. LaBaume was looking forward to his graduation. He would take his final class during the first summer session, then return in August to formally graduate.
However, his dream of walking across the stage to receive his diploma never took place. But his dream will finally come true Saturday morning when LaBaume will be among the Sam Houston State University students who will formally have their degrees conferred during commencement ceremonies for the College of Sciences and the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication.
LaBaume was a first-generation college student from Dublin, a small town in Central Texas, and the first in his family to earn a degree. Everything was going as planned for the agriculture major in the summer of 1962—he completed his final class, bought his class ring and his yearbook, ordered invitations for his commencement ceremony, and took a temporary job in Austin with the Cotton Division of the United States Department of Agriculture until something permanent came along.
When he asked his supervisor for the day off to attend his graduation ceremony, he was told, “I guess since you’re a college graduate, you think you know everything. If you want to take the day off, that’s fine. But you’re a temporary employee, and you won’t have a job when you get back.”
LaBaume said he had no choice.
“Instead of missing work and losing my job, I missed my graduation,” he said.
Not long afterwards, LaBaume took a full-time job with the USDA in the Soil Conservation Service, which has since become the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He was employed to work in the Texas Panhandle town of Silverton as a conservationist by the USDA in 1963 and retired as an NRCS district conservationist in Floydada in 1998.
He and his wife Elaine raised a daughter, Kelli (Childre), and a son, Coy. He returned to the SHSU campus once, in 1965, for the graduation of his sister, Jane LaBaume Truelove Bell.
As a student, LaBaume took classes in Old Main and at Country Campus and worked on campus in the meat lab. One of his memories includes being mistaken for a prison inmate while he was wearing a white lab coat.
“The inmates sometimes worked in the meat lab, and one time a guard whistled at me and tried to round me up with the other inmates because they wore all white, too,” he said.
He has other fond memories of campus life as well—attending Tripod’s funeral, watching a very successful Bearkat baseball team compete against much bigger schools, and attending football games at Pritchett Field.
“That old rock stadium looks so small now,” he said. “When I was going to school, we thought it was huge.”
He was also living on campus when Hurricane Carla struck the Texas coast.
“It was rough around here,” he said. “I had never experienced the effects of a hurricane before. The rain washed a hole in the middle of the street near my dorm that was about 12 feet deep, 20 feet wide, and 30 feet long. That hurricane certainly left an impression on me,” he said.
Although he moved far away from Huntsville to work and raise a family, he often thought about his alma mater. And he always regretted not getting to go through graduation ceremonies.
“All the work and effort, being the first in my family to graduate from college, the time that I had spent working to pay for my education—I just always wished I could have participated in my graduation ceremony,” LaBaume said.
“He loved his time at Sam Houston,” Childre said. “The first new car that he bought was an orange and white pickup truck, and for years there was a picture of Old Main hanging in our house. He still proudly wears his college ring, which is so worn it is hard to make out the year and degree. But around the stone, ‘Sam Houston State College’ is still very visible.”
Childre, who is the director of public relations at Lubbock Christian University, is involved with commencement each year as part of her job. In recent years, her dad had mentioned more often his regret of not getting to participate in his graduation ceremony. She said she wished she could do something to “fix it.”
“As I was working our December commencement ceremonies and saw the joy and sense of finality and accomplishment that graduates get to experience, it hit me—why not ask that he be allowed to walk in Sam Houston’s May commencement ceremonies, 51 years after the commencement ceremony he should have been in?” she said.
Without her dad’s knowledge, Childre approached the university with her request. Once she received correspondence from the Office of Academic Affairs granting permission, she told her dad what she had done.
“I asked him how he would feel about getting to walk in May’s graduation ceremony at Sam Houston State University,” she said.
LaBaume was incredulous.
“I asked Kelli, ‘You mean with a cap and a gown and everything?’” he said.
“I told him, ‘Yes, the whole deal’—he was speechless,” Childre said.
However, words of joy and excitement were plentiful when the LaBaume family arrived at Sam Houston State University Friday morning to take a campus tour.
“I never imagined something like this would ever happen,” LaBaume said.
A little late, perhaps, but for one Bearkat a dream that began more than half a century ago is finally becoming a reality. On Saturday morning, in front of his wife, children, grandchildren, his two sisters who will be in attendance, and his twin brother who will be there “in spirit,” Jon J. LaBaume, in cap and gown, will walk across the stage at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum and have his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture officially conferred.