Early family loss leads to Geismar native’s career choice, academic achievement

At eight-years-old, Jalen Wagner, the top grad for Southern University’s Fall 2017 Commencement, experienced the tragic loss of his maternal’s grandfather due to a heart attack. From then on, he vowed to make sure heart disease does not take another grandfather or family member, by committing himself to becoming a cardiologist.

“My grandfather was my rock,” explains Wagner. “Ever since that day, I remember wishing to become a cardiologist, and biology seemed to be the most natural way to accomplish that.”

A Geismar native, Wagner also knew he wanted to make an impact and give back to his community, just as his parents, Shalanda and Odis Wagner, had instilled in him. Graduating from Dutchtown High School, he was a member of the allied health program, football team, and the band.  

The search for his next steps was not exhausting. Wagner knew that Southern University was the right choice for him. “I knew that this was home, and I would feel safe at Southern,” adds Wagner. With several family members attending Southern, he wanted to continue the legacy. “This was where I was supposed to be all along.”

While attending Southern, he “stuck to the books”, determined to excel and build on his dreams and goals. He models his hard work based on a quote from actor and poet John Baker, formerly known on stage as Spoken Reasons. “He lives by a motto, "FCHW". It stands for Faith, Consistency, and Hard Work.” This is evident by not only the achievements in his personal life, but in his professional life.

To some, being named the chief student marshal, is a goal that was set when they first entered college. However, it was a complete surprise for Wagner. “I knew that I was excelling academically, but was unaware that my achievements afforded me the opportunity to be this commencement’s chief student marshal.”

After his final walk during Friday’s commencement, Wagner plans on applying for admission to medical school at Baylor University, Louisiana State University, and Meharry Medical College.

Leaving Southern will be bittersweet for the future medical doctor, but he wants future students to know one thing: “success is up to you.” “Upon graduation, I can certainly say that I came to SU to get an education, I saw where my future could take me, and I conquered the trials and tribulations that were set before me. I am one proud Jaguar.”


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