May 28, 2017  

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Southern Miss College of Arts and Letters Presents Alumni Awards

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Lindsey "Katie" Jack
College of Arts and Letters Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Katie Jack addresses students, faculty, staff and other guests at the college’s recent awards ceremony.

The University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Arts and Letters recognized two outstanding alumnae for their professional accomplishments during its annual College Awards Ceremony and Reception. Lindsey “Katie” Jack, Class of 2003, was honored as the recipient of the College of Arts and Letters Distinguished Alumni Award, and Rachel Rizzuto, Class of 2009, was selected to receive the College of Arts and Letters New Alumni Award. 

“These awards were established to recognize accomplished alumni of the College of Arts and Letters who have employed their degrees to make a significant impact in their chosen field, and who have demonstrated a commitment to the value of the arts, humanities and social science disciplines represented in the college,” associate dean Eric Tribunella said following the awards presentation. “Katie Jack and Rachel Rizzuto represent the tremendous potential of our graduates, and serve as models of what is possible for our students to achieve.”   

Both award recipients were also recognized by Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, who joined College of Arts and Letters Dean Maureen Ryan in presenting them with their awards.

Jack, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communication, went on to a distinguished career managing logistics and protocol for presidential candidates and U.S. government officials. She began her career by helping plan and execute the opening of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark. She became the special assistant to the office of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from 2005-09 and then served eight years as a presidential appointee in the Obama Administration at the Department of State.

Most recently, Jack served as the senior advisor to the United States Chief of Protocol, and in that capacity worked as the primary liaison to all federal agencies and departments on matters pertaining to protocol. In her role as senior gifts officer, Jack was responsible for creating, commissioning and procuring gifts for foreign dignitaries on behalf of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of State Kerry. During her time with the State Department, she coordinated more than 1,500 gifts and traveled to 27 countries with President and Mrs. Obama. Jack lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Christopher Lucey, and two children, Jack and Charlotte Lucey.

In her acceptance remarks before an audience of over 250 students, faculty and staff award winners and their guests, Jack noted that the path to career success is not always clear or smooth. She encouraged students not to be discouraged by setbacks, but to seize opportunities and build on them.

Rachel Rizzuto graduated summa cum laude in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance, and a minor in Latin. Shortly after graduation, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in modern dance. She became a founding member of MMDC, a Brooklyn-based modern dance company that has performed nationally and internationally.

In 2015, she founded her own dance company, touche pas (French for “don’t touch!”), an interdisciplinary collective dedicated to utilizing large casts and performing only to live music. After interning with Dance Teacher magazine, she joined the staff full time as an assistant editor and writer in 2013.  She was promoted to associate editor in 2016 and has written several cover stories for the magazine. Additionally, she writes for its sister publications, including Pointe and Dance Magazine, and pens dance reviews for bachtrack.com. 

When accepting her award, Rizzuto recalled the professors of dance and English at Southern Miss who helped her develop important skills and reinforced her commitment to hard work and discipline, as well as to writing and the arts. She described how she was able to combine her training in dance and English to build a successful career, and she offered words of encouragement to the student award winners who may be uncertain about their own career paths.   

“When we asked College of Arts and Letters department chairs and directors to recommend their accomplished alumni for consideration as recipients of the first annual college distinguished alumni awards, chairs responded with a gratifying array of smart, successful graduates of their programs,” Ryan said. “For the inaugural awards, we selected two especially talented alumni. Rachel Rizzuto and Katie Jack made time in their busy lives to return to campus to accept their awards and to inspire current students with their Southern Miss stories and their advice for professional success. Such capable graduates, both flourishing personally and professionally, inspire us all.”

To see a photo gallery of College of Arts and Letters’ annual awards ceremony, visit the college’s Facebook page @USMArtsandLetters.