Each time a new employee begins work at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Office of University Communications, our first conversation is about expectations—my expectations for them and their expectations for the work ahead of them. Last, and perhaps most important, on the bulleted list I provide is a note about approaching their work with gratitude. As USM employees, we are part of an organization that transforms lives (and families), as well as benefits communities. Not everyone is afforded that opportunity through their daily work. It is a blessing, as well as a responsibility, and one that I hope inspires and energizes the people with whom I work most closely.
Of course the best reminders cannot be found on a one-page document for new UC employees, but in the thoughts, words and actions of our students. USM faculty and staff members are fortunate to be able to watch students grow over time as scholars, as leaders and as people. That growth is the most obvious evidence that our work is effective, and our time spent at Southern Miss is a worthwhile investment. Perhaps the best part of our role in the Office of University Communications is to share the stories of those students, and in doing so, share the story of Southern Miss.
In March, University Communications unveiled a new advertising campaign we call “My Southern Miss Story,” featuring numerous USM students coming from various backgrounds and being educated on multiple campuses across South Mississippi. The campaign is being featured across multiple states, with a heaviest emphasis in Louisiana and Mississippi, and a number of platforms—television, Internet radio, web, print, billboards and, of course, social media. It is the creation of University Communications’ outstanding marketing communications team, but these stories are the unscripted, authentic words of students who are finding USM to be a second home, academically challenging themselves, and experiencing the life-altering effect of USM.
As you view the majority or entirety of this series of advertisements, including the video clips on the University’s YouTube channel, you will quickly notice emerging themes—themes that should not surprise South Mississippi residents. In many ways, the Southern Miss story is the story of South Mississippi, and vice versa. These students know Southern Miss and South Mississippi to be warm, inviting and encouraging; they appreciate the kindness shown by their neighbors; they take pride in the hard work that has led to success; and they understand that achievements are earned—sometimes only after overcoming challenges.
My friend Rodney Richardson, marketing genius, USM alumnus, and owner of Rare Design, frequently refers to South Mississippi’s grit—I like that descriptor. What many at USM and across South Mississippi understand is that grit is as an important and useful quality as any—and it describes us perfectly. Sure, we know the negative qualities those outside our region inaccurately prescribe to us. When we succeed, it is only after we have first overcome those notions. There is a specialness about this place and those who choose to live, work and study here as a result of that challenge and the work required to overcome it. It has been said that no one at USM is born on third base; I can tell you that is largely true, not only for the University, but South Mississippi. But those who stand at third with their uniforms spotless do not know the satisfaction of slugging one into the gap, rounding second, and sliding head first into third just ahead of the throw, having earned your way there. Walking gets you there fine, but it is far less fulfilling.
As I listen and read about today’s USM students, I am convinced that they have made a good choice in coming to Southern Miss and joining us in South Mississippi. When I hear them speak about their choice, their stories are uniquely warm and hospitable and uniquely gritty—and that’s a good thing.