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The Freshman Class of 2003 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is special. It has more high school valedictorians than any other freshman class at UL Lafayette and university leaders let them know just that on the first day of class.

Several of those students met with UL Lafayette President Dr. Ray Authement and other university officials for lunch in Edith Garland Dupré Library on Monday. The lunch evolved from a past event in which students were invited to a reception with university officials.

"It's always exciting to see the students return to campus on the first day of classes," said Authement. "It's especially exciting this semester to welcome so many talented students from right here in Louisiana. These valedictorians have proven they were leaders during their high school careers and we know they will continue to be leaders here at UL Lafayette."

The Class of 2003 includes 72 valedictorians from 46 high schools across the state. Many of these students served as student government leaders, class officers, yearbook editors and newspaper editors. They were also members of the National Honor Society, the Beta Club, the dance team, the marching band and the Teenage Republicans. As for athletics, the class includes players from basketball, football, baseball, track, soccer, softball, volleyball and many other sports.

"This is truly a well-rounded class with high achieving students," said Dan Rosenfield, dean of Enrollment Management. "These students are the best of the best and it's wonderful that they chose to continue their education at UL Lafayette, because they could have gone almost anywhere."

The students entered the university one year before new admission standards for selective admissions are adopted in 2005. Currently, students must meet certain criteria like scoring between 18 and 23 on the ACT exam and having a grade point average between 2.0 and 2.3 to enter the university.

"This class had no problem meeting the selective admissions requirements," said Adele Bulliard, director of scholarships. "Students who had ACT scores of 28 or above were offered academic scholarships. The accomplishments of this class are astonishing and itÕs great to see them honored."

The four-year scholarships offered to these students and a host of others in the freshmen class totaled more than $3.5 million.

In addition to Acadiana students choosing UL Lafayette, Bulliard said a record number of students were offered the university's out-of-state fee waiver.

"We have students coming from all across the country including Illinois, Texas, California, and Indiana to name a few," she said. In all, students from 26 states were offered the waiver.

It is granted to out-of-state students who meet specific admission requirements including standardized test scores and grade point averages among other items.

"We definitely have a diverse group of students entering college this semester and we hope they take advantage of all the university has to offer them," said Rosenfield. "We have numerous academic clubs, athletic events and student-oriented events throughout the year. We want all of our students to enjoy their time here while getting an education which will prepare them for careers and/or graduate study."

The university expects to release enrollment numbers after the first two weeks of the semester when it reports those figures to the Board of Regents.