Becoming an Inspiration

Class of 2014 alumna Hayley Arceneaux has been living her dream to help childhood cancer patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But an opportunity to visit space as part of Inspiration4, the first all-civilian mission to orbit Earth, has brought her goals and accomplishments to an even more cosmic level.

On September 15, 2021, the late afternoon Cape Canaveral air was typically blustery and humid as Hayley Arceneaux looked out to the swelling crowd assembled on the grounds of Kennedy Space Center. To those gathered, the hours of heat and anxious waiting were a trivial detail that faded further and further into translucency as time slowly ticked by. They were there to witness an important moment in history, one they could proudly tell stories about for the rest of their lives: the launch of humankind’s first all-civilian spaceflight to orbit Earth, Inspiration4. It would also be the farthest flight for human spaceflight since the Hubble missions.

Hayley, at only 29 years old, was about to play a significant role in bringing this monumental step in space travel to fruition. At 8:02 p.m. that evening, she would do something many people don’t even dare to dream of. She would launch into the cosmos, orbiting the planet for nearly three full days.

But if taking a place in history as a member of the first all-civilian space crew wasn’t enough, Hayley would personally soon lay claim to two more titles: the youngest American and the first person with a prosthesis to ever visit space.

And even more than that, above and beyond being part of this next step in human spaceflight, she was doing it to raise money for a cause she had believed in with all her heart since she was a child, one that could help save the lives of little ones who were dreaming of one day setting off on their own amazing paths. She was doing it to help fund cancer research and treatment for St. Jude. As a childhood cancer survivor herself who had dedicated her career to helping others make it through what she had, she was also inspiring her patients and all youngsters to always keep reaching for the stars.

Hayley knew she would soon need to put on her full spacesuit and fulfill this destiny. The initially incomprehensible event this small-town girl from St. Francisville, La., had arduously and excitedly been training for during the past several months would soon begin.

But just before she went in to start her final preparations, as she glanced out at the rustling crowd of supporters in the still bright late-afternoon Florida sun, something caught her eye. And then something else. Again, and again.

They were uniform speckles of powder blue. Looking closer, they were t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Hayley’s Ground Krewe.” As Hayley recognized the faces above them, she was swept up in even more warmth and joy. They were all her best friends, the ones who had been there for her since they first met while students together at Southeastern. They had come a long way together, and now they were there to support her as she made history. From Southeastern to space, and beyond.

Taking this Lion Pride with her, a short time later Hayley entered the capsule of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft Resilience. She took her seat in the monochrome interior’s far left and prepared for countdown—and a history-making, life-changing experience she would never forget.


Hayley’s journey to space truly began nearly two decades earlier. At age 10, she began to feel an ache in her knee. When the pain kept coming back, she underwent a series of tests that revealed a devastating diagnosis: a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital soon became home away from home for Hayley and her family. It was there she received limb-saving surgery, which included implantation of a prosthesis in her leg and chemotherapy. The treatment she underwent ultimately not only saved her life, it sparked in her a dream to one day work for St. Jude and help other children fighting cancer.

Years later when it came time to choose a college to help her get there, Hayley put Southeastern at the top of her list—following in the footsteps of her grandmother who was also an alumna.

“I was initially impressed by Southeastern when a representative came to speak at my high school, and I learned about the different colleges and scholarships. And then when I visited campus, I thought it was just beautiful,” said Hayley. “I also liked the size of the classes and being able to get to know my professors”.

“I loved it even more than I thought I was going to. Ever since my first few days at Southeastern,” she continued. “I rushed right before I started school, and my first day of school I already had new friends. Those were some of the best years of my life. I absolutely loved Southeastern, and I made all the best friends there that are still my best friends.” These are the same friends that would be there to cheer Hayley on at Kennedy Space Center as she prepared to make history.


“We got close so fast and have remained life-long friends,” Haley remembered fondly. “From living together in a sorority house to living off-campus when they were right next door and I could just walk over in my slippers. We would eat all of our meals together in the Union and different places, and we would go to the football games together. I loved being in my sorority—it was just such a great way to meet people and to stay busy, which I love doing, and to really get to enjoy everything that Southeastern has to offer.”


Hayley lived life to the fullest while a Southeastern student, becoming actively involved in many on-campus and community organizations including Alpha Sigma Tau, Up Till Dawn, Order of Omega, and Spanish Club.

“Southeastern definitely gave me interpersonal skills. Especially through my sorority, I met so many different people and had leadership roles,” she said.

But she never let go of her core focus to become a physician assistant (PA) and work for St. Jude. So while she minored in biology and successfully completed all the prerequisite coursework for PA school, in an interesting turn Hayley decided to major in Spanish after a unique internship experience.

“I met some Spanish-speaking patients when I interned at St. Jude the summer after my freshman year, and they had a really big impact on me. I saw the challenges that they navigate in cancer treatment in a second language, and I knew I wanted to go back and work with these kids and just help them feel more comfortable by treating them in their native language,” she explained.

“Through studying Spanish the whole world has been opened up to me. I’ve gotten to experience new things I never would have before and see places that I probably wouldn’t have explored if I hadn’t studied Spanish. And, I get to work with Spanish-speaking patients now, which has been my dream.”

Hayley credits her time at Southeastern for preparing her well for PA school and beyond. Not only was she ready academically, but she was able to learn life skills, think in new ways, and find new interests.

As a Spanish major she participated in two study abroad programs through Southeastern, a summer one as part of a group and one on her own for a full semester. She said of this experience, “It really taught me to go out of my comfort zone, which I think was a great skill I learned then that has served me later in life. And also that’s when I really fell in love with international travel and seeing the world.”

“I loved my time at Southeastern. It definitely made me who I am,” she added.

After graduating from Southeastern then PA school, Hayley eventually landed her dream job at St. Jude and moved to Memphis, Tenn.

“I love getting to work with these kids and their families, especially when they’re newly diagnosed,” Hayley said of her work. “They are so overwhelmed, and just getting to sit with them, answer their questions, give them knowledge, and tell them ‘I know you’re overwhelmed; I’ve been there too.’ Just getting to be on the team that helps cure these kids from their cancer is the most rewarding thing that I could ever be part of.”

But destiny still had even more in store for Hayley. Her skills and knowledge, luminous personality, and caring dedication to her patients and her work caught the attention of St. Jude administration for an exciting, one-of-a-kind task.


In February of 2021 Jared Isaacman, a then 38-year-old tech billionaire who had founded private air force provider Draken International and payment processor Shift4 Payments, announced he would be funding the first private human spaceflight comprised only of civilians. The aim was to raise life-saving funds for St. Jude. He would serve as commander, alongside three others still to be chosen. Their four seats were dedicated to representing the pillars of leadership, hope, generosity, and prosperity: Inspiration4.

Jared, who filled the slot of leadership, approached St. Jude to identify a member of their staff who represents hope and could fulfill the role of mission chief medical officer. They knew Hayley would be the perfect fit.

Hayley recalled how the offer to visit space hit her completely out of the blue. “I was absolutely shocked when I was asked to go to space. St. Jude had told me in an email they wanted to talk to me about something. They said it was a unique opportunity. And so I join a conference call with St. Jude, and they start telling me about this all-civilian mission to space. The first all-civilian mission. And how it was going to be used as a fundraiser for St. Jude.

“I’m thinking, ok, what do I have to do with this? And then I was absolutely shocked when they said we want to send you to space. I actually laughed, and I said ‘what, are you serious?’ And then I said ‘yes.’ But then I thought for a second and said, ‘Let me check with my mom. But my answer is yes.’ I got done, and my hands were shaking.”

When she did run it by her mom and the rest of her family, they were not only elated for her, they also helped calm some of her nerves. “My family was so supportive. My brother and his wife are both aerospace engineers. And so they definitely made me feel more comfortable about the safety of space travel.”


Despite this reassurance, it was still a huge surprise to process. “I never imagined it would be possible for me to go to space. And until this mission, it wouldn’t have been. Because I have an internal prosthesis in my leg I would not have been qualified to be a NASA astronaut, so I had never really considered it. All I ever wanted to do was work at St. Jude.”

The remaining two members of the crew were soon chosen, with Chris Sembroski representing generosity and Dr. Sian Proctor, who became the first black female spacecraft pilot through this mission, representing prosperity. The next few months were a whirlwind as they embarked on raising awareness for the fundraising purpose and participating in astronaut training.

“We did water survival training, hiked a mountain together, did fighter pilot training so that we became very accustomed to G-forces, and also we became accustomed to G-forces through centrifuge training. We did do a zero-gravity flight, and it was a good introduction, but space zero gravity felt very different to me, and then it was just constant in space. The majority of what we did was studying and spending time in the simulator for our Dragon spacecraft.”


The world became fascinated with this mission, following the crew’s stories and preparations. Media attention became a norm for Hayley, who was even featured on the cover of Time magazine and in the Netflix documentary Countdown: Inspiration 4, Mission to Space. But throughout the rocketing attention, she stayed grounded in who she was and what she was setting out to accomplish.

The moment she and her Inspiration4 colleagues had anxiously awaited finally came on September 15. As people across the globe watched, a flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched Inspiration4 out of Earth’s atmosphere.

The group soon reached orbit, and Hayley’s amazement continued to grow. “We had the most incredible views of Earth. We had this large dome window, called a cupola, which was the largest window ever flown in space. From it we would see an entire 360° view of the planet, with the blackness of space around it and stars and the moon; it was gorgeous. I could see lightning from space and even a wildfire, which was really crazy to see.”

“Seeing the Earth from space changes a person,” she added. “Getting that perspective of our planet. When I saw the Earth, I was just overwhelmed by how beautiful it was. And I also felt the most intense feeling of gratitude that I’ve ever felt. Gratitude for being alive, for getting to experience something that so few people have gotten to experience. And that feeling of gratitude will stay with me forever.”


But Hayley was not only impacted personally; she was able to be part of creating an impact on the world and on the children she was dedicated to serving. “We were not there to just be tourists,” Hayley said. “We did several types of biomedical research. The main thing we were assessing was the human body and microgravity, and how short-duration space missions affect the human body. We also called the St. Jude patients from space, which was the highlight of the mission for me—getting to talk to my patients from space and telling them that they can do this too.”

From eating cold wet pizza with jalapenos and catching some sleep in a sleeping bag hovering over her seat with a seatbelt around it so she wouldn’t float off in the night, to conducting monumental research and talking to those back on Earth, Hayley’s time in orbit soon flew by. On September 18, 2021, at 7:06 p.m. EDT, the Dragon capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral. Haley was the first to exit the spacecraft when SpaceX’s recovery ship Go Searcher picked them up about 40 minutes later.


While the mission was completed, the impact it had on Hayley would stay with her forever. “Through the past year, I’ve been put in some very stressful situations,” she said. “And it showed me that I’m stronger than I think I am. And it gave me skills and taught me how to manage difficult situations.”

The end of Inspiration4 was also not the end of Hayley’s role with SpaceX. In December she accepted a position as part of their medical team—helping medically train and support commercial astronauts.

Hayley has also taken up public speaking, and will soon become a published author. Her book Wild Ride, a memoir that recounts her time as a healthy kid to her cancer diagnosis and treatment, days at Southeastern, and her experiences with Inspiration4, drops September 6 and is now available for preorder.

Even in the midst of all of her work and accomplishments, Hayley continues to pursue new endeavors to become as well-rounded as possible. “I love international travel—that is my biggest hobby,” she said. “I really love enjoying a local restaurant scene. And I’m a wanna-be mixologist. I’m trying to learn how to make cocktails. And then of course seeing my friends.”

But even though she continues to play a role in the future of space exploration and pursue new dreams, Hayley is not letting go of her original dream of helping children at St. Jude, for which she helped raise nearly $242 million as part of Inspiration4. Today she continues to serve as a PA at the place that helped save her own life, uplifting those she works with in big ways, and she wouldn’t trade it in for anything.

“What has been most inspiring to me has been the kids I work with who have cancer telling me that they now want to be an astronaut. I really wanted to go on this mission to show them what life after cancer can look like. And it can be full, and it can be full of accomplished dreams. And no matter what they want to do, if they want to be an astronaut and go to the moon or whatever else they want to do in their life, I just want to show them it’s possible. So when I have a patient tell me they want to be an astronaut now, it just fills my heart.”


There have been countless experiences that have helped Hayley get to it where she is today, living her dream and accomplishing things most could only imagine, inspiring others. But Southeastern still always remains close to her heart.

“I have so much gratitude to Southeastern for empowering me and for making me feel like I was capable of so much. I’m the first Lion to go to space, but hopefully not the last.”

By Sheri Gibson

Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies Acquiring Rare Documents

In early July 2022 an impressive and extraordinarily rare batch of documents, previously a part of the Thomas W. Streeter Collection, went up for auction. Sam Hyde, Leon Ford Endowed Chair and director of the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University, said he was contacted by one of the center’s biggest benefactors who notified him about the documents.

“Ann Reilly Jones describes herself as first and foremost a hunter,” Hyde said. “And fortunately for us, one of the things she hunts for are rare documents pertaining to this region.”

In the competitive bidding process, Jones invested $13,000 to purchase some impressive documents to add to the center’s holdings, Hyde added.

“The documents are all British land grants along the Natalbany and Amite rivers, mostly to soldiers who served in the French and Indian War,” Hyde explained. “The grants, issued in 1777 and 1778, as the American Revolution raged, also included some to British loyalists who were being persecuted by the Americans during the revolution and who fled to British-controlled West Florida, a territory that chose not to join in the revolution. All of the documents include maps, replete with identified ‘witness trees’ that were used to delineate the dimensions of the grant, and some include the seal of West Florida.”

Louisiana’s Florida Parishes remain the only place in North America where every major European power that intruded into the continent held governmental authority. The native peoples did not issue land grants and the initial French explorers of the region issued very few. It was the British who first began issuing substantive numbers of land grants.

The documents, which represent some of the first block printing ever completed in the Gulf South region, are in pristine condition. After processing in the center, the grants will be included in an exhibit connected to the forthcoming Louisiana in Continuity and Change Symposium to be hosted at Southeastern the final week of September 2022. The documents will remain on permanent display in the center through the end of the year.

For more information on the documents or to arrange viewing times, contact the center at 985-549-2151 or email

Southeastern Channel Honored as Best in the Nation

The Southeastern Channel has once again been recognized as best in the nation by College Broadcasters, Inc.

The channel was honored at CBI’s National Student Production Awards with first place in the nation for Best Video Newscast for its Nov. 11, 2020 episode of the student newscast, Northshore News.

It marks the 11th time that the Southeastern Channel has won first place in the nation honors in college television from College Broadcasters, Inc.

The Southeastern Channel also won five other national honors from CBI, including second place in the nation for Best Hard News Reporting, Best Feature News Reporting, Best Video Promo, and Best Video PSA. The channel also won a third-place award in the Best Hard News Reporting category.

The channel won its awards from the over 1,000 entries submitted by the top broadcasting schools from throughout the nation. Its six national awards were the most of any other college television station in the country. Other award winners included Syracuse, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Temple, Utah State, Oregon State, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, and the University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s an honor for the Southeastern Channel to win first place in the nation 11 times now against the best competition in college broadcasting,” said Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon. “We’re so happy for our students who work hard to achieve the highest quality possible with each new production. Their honors are well-deserved and carry on the Southeastern Channel’s legacy of production excellence.”

“To win first place in the country is honor enough, but when you look at how many we were competing against it really makes it that much more special,” said student Chris Rosato of Mandeville, who produced, anchored, and reported for the award-winning newscast.

In addition to winning this year for the nation’s top student newscast, since 2014 the Southeastern Channel has been named best in the country three times for Best TV Hard News Reporting, twice for Best Video Sportscast, two times for Best Video PSA, once for Best Video Comedy, once for Best Video Documentary, and once for a live football game broadcast.

It was the first time Northshore News has won the first-place award for the best student TV newscast in the country. The newscast had previously won second place in the nation twice.

Rosato’s co-anchor on the winning episode was Lily Gayle of Greensburg, and the program also featured news stories by Rosato, Gayle, Caroline Fussell of Covington, Kaylee Normand of Mandeville, Raychelle Riley of Denham Springs, Kayla Martin of New Orleans, and Coby Sanchez of Baton Rouge.

“Most college newscasts are dominated by campus news,” Settoon said. “But Northshore News truly serves its viewing audience on the Northshore, potentially 240,000 on Spectrum Cable, with local news that’s not only informative but impactful to their lives.”

Settoon said that Northshore News covers Northshore crime, government, politics, schools, hospitals, safety, health, finance, business, and economic and community development.

“Students are able to interview government officials like the Louisiana governor and lieutenant governor, state and federal legislators, parish presidents, and city officials,” Settoon said. “Not many student newscasts provide these opportunities.”

The winning episode presented critical news about viewer safety, hurricane damage, and impacts during Hurricane Zeta. Sanchez, a certified storm spotter for the National Weather Service, captured dramatic live footage of Zeta from inside the storm’s eyewall.

The newscast also included Rosato’s coverage of the fall 2020 election and Normand’s live interview from the state capitol in Baton Rouge with Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association, about recent sports betting legislation.

In addition to anchoring and producing, Rosato produced a news package on St. Tammany Parish’s pursuit of the death penalty in the murder of beloved Mandeville police officer Captain Vincent Liberto.

Martin covered the reopening of movie theatres on the North Shore after they were shut down due to the onset of the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, Riley looked at the controversy surrounding the medical supply giant, Medline, and its plans to open an 800,000-square-foot distribution center in Covington.

Gayle reported on the construction of a new Methodist children’s home in Loranger, while Normand looked at a new plan to improve safety, transportation, and community activity along Madisonville’s Riverfront area for local residents and businesses.

Fussell’s story from the same episode, “COVID-19 Vaccine,” won second place in the nation for Best Video Hard News Reporting. Her story described efforts by the Tulane Primate Center in Covington to develop a COVID-19 vaccine by using monkeys. It also gauged local residents’ views about wanting to use any of the proposed COVID vaccines once they were released to the public. Like the other reporters, Fussell researched, wrote, produced, reported, shot, and edited the story.

“Our Daily Bread,” a feature story about a Hammond food pantry by Jacqueline Doucet of Covington, won second place in the country for Best Feature News Reporting.

Other second-place winners were “Halloween at the Southeastern Channel” for Best Video Promo by Joseph Trosclair of Mandeville, along with “Check the Beep” about fire safety for Best Video PSA from Josh Manuel, also of Mandeville.

“Mail-In Voting,” a news story by Rosato about the controversial voting process prior to the fall 2020 presidential election, which aired in a different episode of Northshore News, won third place for Best Hard News Reporting.

After graduating from Southeastern in December of 2020, Rosato was hired as the legislative reporter at WAFB-TV Ch. 9 (CBS) in Baton Rouge. His WAFB story on “Mardi Gras in Mamou” aired on the network show “Inside Edition,” and also went viral. Rosato credits the Southeastern Channel with playing a key role in his training and development as a news reporter, anchor, and producer.

“The Southeastern Channel offered me exceptional one-on-one instruction and met all of my work with constructive criticism that I could apply to my next story or show,” Rosato said. “Regarding the job market, working at the channel separated me from the competition by giving me the opportunity to cover real-world current event stories and not just restrict me to on-campus assignments. The Southeastern Channel prepared me to go out into the community and work with public officials and everyday people.”

The Southeastern Channel has now won over 500 national, international, and regional awards, including 23 awards from the Emmys, in the past 19 years. The channel can be seen on Spectrum 199 cable throughout the North Shore, and its 24/7 live stream can be seen on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and at The Southeastern Channel is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Starting a Tradition to Honor Future Educators

Southeastern’s College of Education started a new tradition by hosting its first-ever pinning ceremony. Held July 25, the event celebrated 43 teacher candidates entering their final semester of year-long residency placements.

According to the college, the pinning ceremony is vital to continue prioritizing the principles of the profession of teaching, while simultaneously elevating it.

Two Southeastern alumnae and previous Resident Student Teachers of the Year, Makenzie Plaisance and Robin Henderson, addressed the attendees who included faculty, staff, mentor teachers, family, and friends.

“It was special to have an event that celebrates our achievements as future teachers,” said early childhood education candidate Casey Ferguson. “I was happy to be able to share this milestone with my friends and family.”

The college will continue to honor Southeastern teacher candidates in future pinning ceremonies.

Service in the Swampland

Edward “Brent” Dufreche was a life-long resident of Tangipahoa Parish, born in 1922. A true native son of South Louisiana, he spent his formative years exploring swamps with his family. His uncle, who served as game warden before nationwide logging efforts decimated much of the area in the late 1890s, always claimed the “most beautiful place on Earth was the swamp between Ponchatoula and Manchac before all the cypress trees were cut.” Upon hearing those stories, Brent’s love for South Louisiana took root and only grew stronger for the rest of his storied life.

Brent joined the U.S. Army at 18 and was awarded the Bronze Star during WWII. After he returned to civilian life and his beloved family (wife Ruth and sons Roy and Lucien), Brent set up a law practice in his hometown. He went on to serve the community in many capacities: as city attorney, Hammond City Court judge, and several terms as 21st Judicial District Court judge, to name a few. “The Judge,” as he became known, led with a philanthropic attitude and knack for problem-solving.


“My dad was a visionary, a man far ahead of his time,” said Roy.

An example of Brent’s unique vision still stands today—less than five miles away from Southeastern’s campus. In 1954, he helped secure the property that would become home to Seventh Ward General Hospital, which is known today as North Oaks Health System. Many other organizations in the area benefited from his involvement, including the Tangipahoa Parish Library System. Time and time again, Brent proved that he had a unique ability to assess potential and fill the needs of his fellow citizens.

“My dad just cared about people,” said Lucien. “He wanted to help people as much as he could.”

Over the years, Brent continued to share his love for the Louisiana swamplands. He took his sons on countless fishing and hunting trips. After retirement, he took up woodworking—fashioning tables and other furniture from the “tidewater red cypress” he’d fallen in love with as a boy.

Surrounded by his loving family, Brent passed away in 2015 at the age of 93. Three years later, Roy and Lucien honored their father in a way that was truly unique to his philanthropic legacy—by donating a 233-acre tract of land in his name to the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station through the Southeastern Foundation.


“The donation of this land to Southeastern and the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station is a remarkable gift to students, faculty, and staff here,” said Dr. Robert Moreau, instructor of biological sciences and director of Turtle Cove.

Dr. Gary Shaffer, wetland ecologist and instructor of biological sciences, will guide students at the site in preserving and protecting South Louisiana’s unique ecosystem through cypress tree reforestation and other
environmental studies.

“It checks all of the boxes needed for this sort of work,” said Gary, “including the soil properties; low soil salinity levels; overall habitat potential; and, of course, accessibility.”

Brent’s family is proud that his legacy of generosity, service, and vision will live on at Southeastern—through learning enhanced by the swampland.

By Kati LeBreton