Financial security and career success are worthy personal goals. But the message University of Southern Mississippi spring 2011 commencement speakers delivered to graduates was to go even further by using their education and skills to leave a legacy they can look back on with pride.
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who served as governor of Mississippi from 1988-1992, and 10th District Chancery Court Judge Deborah Gambrell gave the keynote addresses at the morning (Video: Watch full ceremony) and afternoon (Video: Watch full ceremony) graduate ceremonies, respectively, at Reed Green Coliseum on the Hattiesburg campus Friday. Gambrell is also scheduled to address graduates at Southern Miss Gulf Coast Saturday, May 14, at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.
“Do something bigger than yourself, outside yourself,” Mabus urged graduates. “Look for ways to serve that others may not ever notice, but will live on past you. When you get to be my age or older and you’re looking back, that’s what you remember.”
As an example, he cited a reunion he attended of the crew who served during World War II aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Stephen Potter. The ship’s crew earned 12 battles stars during the war and Mabus said surviving members of that group considered their military service “a bright spot in their lives.”
“The military is one way to serve, but not the only way,” said Mabus, who is also a Navy veteran. “Whether on a mission trip to build a hospital, or working as a teacher or joining the Marine Corps or the Peace Corps, do something to give back to this amazing country of ours.”
Mabus, who also served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President Bill Clinton, praised Southern Miss for its contributions to the nation as a major research institution, its commitment to supporting higher education opportunities for veterans and for its quality Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs.
“Southern (Miss) has shown it is one of the premier research universities anywhere and in particular on the Gulf Coast,” Mabus said, pointing to its hydrographic science graduate program at Stennis Space Center which began as a joint venture between the Southern Miss Department of Marine Science and Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO).
Mabus, an Ackerman, Miss., native, also took time to praise the team of Navy Seals who killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden nearly two weeks ago in a raid on the Pakistani compound where he was living, and hailed others serving in the U.S. military.
“That showed what can be done when you have highly trained, highly skilled folks working together,” he said. “But we have lots of people serving in uniform in all branches of military service who are just as skilled and patriotic and dedicated, and we ought to be proud of all of them.”
Gambrell, a 1972 Southern Miss alumna appointed to her current post by Gov. Haley Barbour, also graduated cum laude from the Mississippi College School of Law and was a Forrest County Justice Court Judge from 1980-2011. The Jasper County native began a successful career as an attorney with the Gabrell Law Firm, PLLC in 1978.
She said those with an education and talents are obligated to give of themselves to make their communities better places to live, and noted that this year’s graduates have the education and training to take on all kinds of challenges facing mankind, from global warming to poverty and disease.
“I’m so humbled to be asked to speak at my alma mater’s commencement,” Gambrell said. “This group of graduates, even more so than others before them, is equipped to go out and tackle the big issues facing our global community. And they’ve got a responsibility to do it.”
It doesn’t take fortune or fame to make a positive, lasting impact, she said. “No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you look like, you plant your bucket where you are and use your education, skills and talents to make a difference.”
Southern Miss graduates Chris Martin of Biloxi and Kimberly Nixon of Lumberton were both looking forward to life after graduation Friday as they prepared to receive their diplomas. Martin and fellow marine science graduate Theresa Schultz are both on active duty with the U.S. Navy and were presented their diplomas by Mabus.
“It was a great experience, a lot of hard work and the faculty was tremendous in guiding us as we learned the material, which I’ll take back to the fleet to help train junior sailors,” Martin said. ‘I’m proud to be graduating from USM and carrying that Golden Eagle banner out into the civilian community.”
Nixon, an exercise science major, said she plans to attend physical therapy school after graduation. She credited her professors for giving her a drive to succeed in her chosen field and expressed pride in being part of the Southern Miss family. “My professors have given me a passion for what I’ve studied,” she said. “Not just a degree, but a passion.”