Saying he “looked forward to our future together,” Dr. Rodney Bennett was officially inaugurated as president of The University of Southern Mississippi Friday, May 2 on the Hattiesburg campus during a ceremony held at Bennett Auditorium. An inauguration ceremony was also held at Southern Miss Gulf Coast in Long Beach May 1.
Bennett was chosen 10th president of Southern Miss Feb. 7, 2013 after a series of meetings with university constituents in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast, in which he was introduced as the preferred candidate to lead the institution following a national search. He previously served as Vice President of Student Affairs at the University of Georgia. His first official day on the job was April 1, 2013.
Attending the inauguration were faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters of the university; members of Dr. Bennett’s family; local, federal and state officials; and leaders of other institutions of higher learning in the state, among others.
Dr. Hank Bounds, State Commissioner of Higher Education, officially invested Bennett with the office of president of the University during the ceremony along with Aubrey Patterson, president of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “Through the experience he (Bennett) has gained throughout his career, he is prepared for this moment,” Bounds said.
Bennett thanked Bounds and the board for entrusting him with the presidency, and reiterated his commitment to move the university forward by helping students achieve their goal of obtaining a degree, supporting faculty research and instruction and working as a partner with public and private entities to improve the quality of life in the state and region.
“I can’t tell you how much joy I have in my heart,” Bennett said in addressing the audience. “Thank you so much for this moment.”
Dr. Michael Adams, president emeritus of The University of Georgia and under whom Bennett served as vice president, was the guest speaker for the inauguration. Adams said Bennett is the “right person, at the right time, in the right place” and equipped to lead Southern Miss to its “next pinnacle of achievement.”
Adams praised the state’s board of trustees for higher learning in its historic selection of Bennett, the first African-American president of any of the state’s historically white universities. He said as a boy growing up in the segregated South, “I dreamed of days like this.”
“Today is a great day for the state of Mississippi, and I congratulate anyone who had anything to do with this appointment,” Adams said.