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Released April 21, 2004

SOUTHERN MISS HONORS TOP STUDENTS
AT AWARDS DAY CEREMONIES

HATTIESBURG - More often than not, it's the teacher who inspires students.

But for the University of Southern Mississippi faculty who have come in contact with Carla Walters, the scrappy senior from Laurel has reaffirmed their devotion to their profession.

A special education major, Walters was honored Tuesday during Southern Miss' University Awards Day ceremonies with one of the top student awards, the Judge R.J. Bishop Award, given annually to a student who endures and overcomes hardships in pursuit of a degree at the university.

Walters is a single mother who has battled breast cancer, while at the same time raising four children and pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher.

"God has put the most incredible people in my life, people He would put in my path to keep me going," Walters said.

"The faculty have supported me so much, and told me that this (becoming a teacher) is what I was meant to do," she said. "They weren't going to let me give up."

Dr. Jim Siders and Dr. Janet Nelson, two of Walters' professors in the Southern Miss Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, praised her dedication and endurance.

"I've grown so much as an educator, just watching the grace that she lives through," Siders said. "I've never seen anyone hold their chin up like her. She'll make a heck of a teacher."

"Regardless of whatever happened that made it difficult for her to continue her program, she never made excuses," said Nelson. "She never expected to be treated any less stringently than the other students, and I found that to be remarkable."

Amanda Winters, a senior from Petal, was named the Phi Kappa Phi Silver Bowl winner as the university's top academic achiever. Winters is a student in the university's Honors College and a biochemistry major.

"It's an honor," Winters said of her award. "It was a wonderful decision to choose (Southern Miss) for my undergraduate education."

Other top student award winners included Laura Lynn Mayfield and Absalom Zach Thomas, who received the Best Female and Male Citizen Awards. Southern Miss Student Hall of Fame inductees included Shahira Dia Ali, Katherine Leigh Anderson, Thomas Blaine Barker, Marcus Jerome Coleman, Jennifer Lynn Duke, Jared Steele Loftus, Molly Elizabeth Malone, Christopher Gerald Moore, Justice Marie O'Keefe and Matthew Wayne Pennington.

"It was my honor and privilege to co-chair University Awards Day along with (University Union and Student Activities director) Barbara Ross," said Mary Beth Walker, Southern Miss Student Activities coordinator. "It was inspiring for me to see all the student leaders of Southern Miss gathered together and honored at the event."

Students at the afternoon ceremony were recognized with awards, scholarships and other acknowledgments, including membership in selective honor societies.

"Like graduation, University Awards Day is also a special time to recognize student achievement, and it fills me with pride to see these students recognized for going above and beyond, sometimes overcoming adversity, to realize a dream," said Southern Miss President Shelby Thames.

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April 23, 2004 12:23 PM

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