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Southern Miss Commencement Speaker Gives Life Test to Graduates PDF Print E-mail
Friday, December 11, 2009
Contact David Tisdale, 601.266.4499   


The more than 1,300 graduates participating in commencement ceremonies Friday at The University of Southern Mississippi figured they were finished with exams as they waited to get their diplomas.

But commencement speaker Anthony Topazi, chairman and CEO of Mississippi Power since 2004, gave them one more – what he called a common sense leadership test challenging them to grade out at the top of the class in life.

“These students have the academic preparation. The test for them now is how they’ll use the tools and preparation they’ve received,” he said.

To pass Topazi’s test, graduates need to carry themselves with integrity. “It’s the basis for all success,” he said, Second, they must know how to capitalize on their strengths and deal with their weaknesses. You don’t want to run into any blind spots caused by those weaknesses.”

Third, graduates should focus on results, and finally, they need to know if they could honestly answer the questions Topazi asks himself when he considers hiring someone: “Would I want my children to work for this person?” he said. “Are they a role model, and can they set high standards and live up to them?”

Topazi appears to have passed his own test with flying colors. He’s a member of the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame and serves on the board of directors for Hancock Bank Holding Company and the Federal Reserve Bank of AtlantaNew Orleans branch. While working as an executive with Alabama Power, he played a key role in bringing the first Mercedes Benz assembly plant built outside of Germany to Alabama.

Southern Miss graduates Abby Staples of Laurel and Aaron Bridges of Jackson have what it takes to pass Topazi’s test, and they credit their experiences at Southern Miss for being ready.

Bridges, who majored in exercise science, plans to attend graduate school and then pursue a career as a hospital administrator. He praised his professors for challenging him to give his best in class. “The quality of work they demanded really helped me grow as a student and a person,” he said.

Staples, a graduate of Southern Miss’ Honors College who majored in sociology, plans to study neuropsychology in graduate school. She said Southern Miss’ great strengths are its uniqueness, and that as a student “you don’t have to fit into a stereotype here like at some other schools,” she said. “You fit in because everyone’s excited to be here.”

PHOTO: University of Southern Mississippi senior Gerald Baptiste of New Orleans waits for the 2009 Fall Commencement program to begin Friday, Dec. 11 at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg.  Baptiste is a wide receiver on the Southern Miss football team, which will take on Middle Tennessee State University Dec. 20 in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (Office of University Communications photo by Steve Rouse) 

PHOTO: University of Southern Mississippi graduates in the colleges of Health, Arts & Letters, Honors and University Libraries took part in the morning portion of the 2009 Fall Commencement ceremonies Friday, Dec. 11 at Reed Green Coliseum. (Office of University Communications photo by Steve Rouse) 

PHOTO: Anthony J. Topazi, president and CEO of Mississippi Power, delivered the keynote address during the 2009 Fall Commencement ceremonies held at Reed Green Coliseum on the University of Southern Mississippi campus Friday, Dec. 11. (Office of University Communications 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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