December 13, 2017  

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Famed Actress Urges Southern Miss Students to "Know Yourselves"

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Acclaimed actress and activist Jasmine Guy was the guest speaker for the annual Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series at The University of Southern Mississippi, held Feb. 21 on the Hattiesburg campus. (Photo by Danny Rawls)

“Who are you? Who are you separate from your parents, your teachers? . . . I want you all to know yourselves,” stated acclaimed actress and activist Jasmine Guy at The University of Southern Mississippi’s 2017 Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series. 

On Feb. 21, many from the Southern Miss and Hattiesburg community gathered in Bennett Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus to hear Guy, best known for her role as Whitley Gilbert on the popular television sitcom A Different World, give an engrossing presentation titled “Making Your Own Different World” for the 2017 lecture series.

During her speech, Guy encouraged University students to know themselves personally and individually outside of social media, their circumstances, and their families and friends. According to Guy, millennials are no longer experiencing “real life,” but are instead depicting their lives through the lenses of their digital devices.

“You are losing eye contact. Participate. You are the future, but you are dropping out of the picture because you are in your phones,” stated Guy.

Throughout her presentation, Guy reminded students that they all have a natural talent and passion to achieve their goals, but in order to succeed they have to be present, commit to hard work, speak their minds, self-educate, and take advantage of those who have an interest in their lives.

“You don’t have a voice, unless you do what you do well,” said Guy. 

Coordinator of the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services Valencia Walls, who also assisted with choosing a speaker for the lecture series, said that she spoke with several students and community members who said they thoroughly enjoyed Guy’s speech. Walls also mentioned she felt that those who attended the lecture would be able to apply the speaker’s message to their everyday lives.

“I thought Ms. Guy’s message was great. I had the pleasure of talking to her off-stage and enjoyed hearing of the challenges she faced in the South as a product of an interracial relationship,” said Walls. “I also enjoyed hearing her views on technology and social media and how important it is to ‘treasure the sacred moments.’ Every experience we have does not have to be posted on social media; it should live in our soul.”

Toward the end of her presentation, Guy noted that young adults today have the potential to be “the first” of many great things, although they may not see past their current situations. She encouraged them to make an effort to be physically and mentally involved.

Referencing Gwendolyn Armstrong Chamberlain and Raylawni Adams Branch, who made history as the first African American students at Southern Miss, and the cast of A Different World, Guy stated that at one point in time, they didn’t understand the impact their choices would eventually make on a larger community until years later.  

“We don’t realize it or see that we are the first. I didn’t know that we [A Different World] was part of a bigger picture, like our parents and others before us [Branch and Armstrong] who didn’t realize they had the courage to be the first,” she said.

Presented by the USM Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, the Honors College, and the Dean of Students Office, the 2017 Armstrong-Branch Distinguished Lecture Series is named for Gwendolyn Armstrong Chamberlain and Raylawni Adams Branch, who made history as the first African American students at Southern Miss when they enrolled in 1965.