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Commencement Speaker: Honor Family, Education, Social Responsibilities PDF Print E-mail
Friday, December 12, 2008
Contact David Tisdale 601.266.4499   

Kennesaw State University President Emeritus Dr. Betty Siegel begs to differ with the popular opinion about graduation ceremonies – that they are routine, predictable affairs.

“They’re all different, each has its own personality,” insisted Siegel, the University of Southern Mississippi’s fall commencement speaker. “Some are quite lofty, some are more down to earth, others are solemn or a display of exuberance.”

But commencements do have common denominators, she said, two of which are celebration and reflection. They formed the heart of Siegel’s message – that Friday’s graduates celebrate their accomplishments and reflect on her charge that they “honor their family, their education and their social responsibilities.” 

Siegel, who is also distinguished chair of the Siegel Institute for Leadership, Ethics and Character at Kennesaw State, offered graduates a set of questions to ask themselves as they go forward. Three came from American author Carl Sandburg’s 1948 novel “Remembrance Rock” – “Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?” Siegel added two more of her own – “What is the meaning? How do I matter?”

“They’re good questions to ask, especially at commencement,” she said.

One of those students heeding Siegel’s call for social responsibility is Whit Meeks, an Honors College graduate from Pensacola, Fla. He has joined the Peace Corps for a 27-month assignment in Ecuador, where he hopes to leverage his education and experience working at Brinton Environmental Center in Florida to assist disadvantaged citizens and communities in the South American nation.

“Whit has really lived what I challenge students to do when they arrive at Southern Miss, and that’s to leave the university better than they found it,” said Southern Miss Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul. “He’s been a difference maker in student government and in our Greek Life programs, he’s a top scholar and he treats people as he would like others to treat him.”

Meeks, a history and Spanish major, said his graduation was the culmination of what he described as “about a solid year studying in the (Cook) library.”

“My friends accused me of having a tent at the library,” said Meeks, who graduated summa cum laude, “so my diploma is proof positive I wasn’t in there playing around.” 

Southern Miss graduates anxiously anticipate receiving their diplomas at the 10 a.m. commencement exercise Friday at Reed Green Coliseum on the university’s Hattiesburg campus. Another ceremony was held at 3 p.m. Approximately 1,350 students were candidates for degrees this fall. (Southern Miss Marketing and Public Relations photo by Steve Rouse)

Julian Morgan of Long Beach, at 83 the oldest graduate at Southern Miss’ Friday commencement exercises, received a degree in history at the 10 a.m. ceremony. (Southern Miss Marketing and Public Relations photo by Steve Rouse)

Kennesaw State University President Emeritus Dr. Betty Siegel urges Southern Miss graduates to “honor their education, their family and their social responsibilities” during her commencement address Friday. (Southern Miss Marketing and Public Relations photo by Steve Rouse)

About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at


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