With commencement season here, we remember some key leaders in the history of local higher education. Tulane University's first president was William Preston Johnston, who also was a former president of Louisiana State University. A lawyer born in Kentucky in 1831, he was a colonel in the Confederate Army and an aide to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Johnston served as Tulane president from 1884 until 1899. That's about the same time the first president of Loyola University, Father Albert Biever arrived in New Orleans. The Jesuit priest, born in Luxembourg, was the first president of Loyola College when it opened on St. Charles Avenue in 1904 and received its charter as Loyola University in 1912. Xavier University's first president was Sister M. Agatha Ryan, a member of the religious order that founded the school, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She died in 1968, the same year Dr. Norman Francis was appointed as Xavier's first lay president. Another pivotal figure in local education was Dr. Homer Hitt, who served as the first leader of the University of New Orleans. In 1958, he was chosen as the first dean of what originally was called LSUNO. He later was named president and in 1963 became chancellor. Hitt led the university through its formative years and spearheaded its growth throughout its first two decades. We'll acknowledge the founding leaders of some other area institutions next week.