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Released August 09, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Smith was unable to attend his own graduation from The University of Southern Mississippi in 1965, because of work obligations and his imminent conscription into the military.

On Monday, nearly 40 years later, he made up for lost time as he gave the commencement address to more than 1,000 degree candidates during Southern Miss' 2004 summer commencement exercises held at the James Lynn Cartlidge Multi Purpose Center just south of the university's campus on U.S. Highway 49.

"This is a special occasion for me, a tremendous honor," Smith said prior to his address.

Smith touched on what he described as "an age-old American tradition" of having a solid foundation of values to achieve true success in life.

"Having money in life is not everything," he said. "It's important to have character, a love of family and a love for your fellow man," he said.
Smith was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1993. He graduated from Southern Miss in 1965 with a bachelor of science in history and political science. He received his juris doctorate from the Jackson School of Law in 1972. From 1973 until 1980, he was city prosecuting attorney for the city of Pearl, and in 1976 was prosecuting attorney for Rankin County.

From 1977 until 1982, Smith served as district attorney for the 20th Circuit Court District, and from April 1982 until his election to the state Supreme Court, he served as County Court judge in Rankin County. He also served three years in the U.S. Army and four years in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Smith said he hoped he could inspire some of Monday's graduates to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in public service, despite perceived negative attitudes about elected and other government officials.

"In spite of the (political) divisiveness in the country right now, I hope there are still those who would want to take on the challenge of a career in public service," he said.

Carrie Johnikin of Laurel looked on at the College of Education and Psychology banner prior to the beginning of commencement ceremonies, contemplating the conclusion of her undergraduate program. She was scheduled to receive a degree in reading instruction.

"I'm very excited," Johnikin said. "I've worked very hard for this, and my family has supported me all the way."

For graduating senior Amanda Dabbs of Hattiesburg, Monday's commencement ceremony was just one of many big moments for her this year. In addition to completing her requirements for a degree in marketing, she also got married this year and is expecting her first baby in November.

"I'm excited and relieved," she said of graduating. "I feel like I've really accomplished something."


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September 1, 2004 1:34 PM