Rick Cleveland, an award-winning Mississippi sportswriter and University of Southern Mississippi alumnus, will serve as the fall 2012 commencement speaker at his alma mater during two ceremonies Dec. 14 on the Hattiesburg campus.
A native of Hattiesburg and 1975 graduate of Southern Miss, Cleveland is the most decorated sports journalist in Mississippi history. He began his career covering high school football games for the Hattiesburg American newspaper while still in junior high school. He currently serves as executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson.
Cleveland’s roots at Southern Miss run deep and wide. His father, the late Ace Cleveland, served as the university’s long-time sports information director and his mother, Carrie, worked for 20 years in the campus bookstore. His brother, Bobby, another distinguished Mississippi journalist, also graduated from Southern Miss.
Hi son, Tyler Cleveland, is currently a student at the University and daughter Annie Cleveland, a Chicago stage actress, is a Southern Miss honors graduate in theatre.
“I am deeply honored (to serve as commencement speaker),” he said. “I literally grew up on the USM campus. The university has played a very significant role in my life.”
Cleveland says his message to the graduates will include “some of the usable advice I’ve received over the years” and his thoughts on how his alma mater has changed, “for the better” in the 37 years since he graduated. He says he’ll also talk about how changes in technology have affected the profession he worked in for so many years, but that its most basic element is still relevant.
“I happen to believe words still matter,” he said. “And will always matter.”
Cleveland’s talents eventually led to sports editor positions for the American; the News Star in Monroe, La., and the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. His reporting and writing have produced scores of state, regional and national awards. In 2011, Cleveland became the first sports writer ever to be honored with the prestigious Richard Wright Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Excellence. Previous winners include such noted authors as Eudora Welty, Richard Ford and Willie Morris. The author of three books, he also received the Distinguished Mississippian Award from the Mississippi Press Association’s Education Foundation in 2000.
“Writers are thinkers because writing forces careful thinking. One of Mississippi’s best writers is our alumnus Rick Cleveland,” said Southern Miss Interim President Aubrey Lucas. “I invited him to be our commencement speaker because I knew he would give careful thought to what he would say, and what he would say would be worth the attention of our graduates.”
Fall 2012 commencement ceremonies will be at 10 a.m. with graduates of the colleges of Arts and Letters, Nursing, Science and Technology and University Libraries; and at 2:30 p.m. with graduates from the colleges of Business, Education and Psychology and Health.
Following both ceremonies, the Southern Miss Alumni Association invites graduates and their guests to a “Graduate Good Bye” reception at the Payne Center basketball courts. In addition to photo set-ups for capturing special memories, refreshments and music will be provided. Commemorative gifts will be given to graduates who attend the reception. More information can be found atwww.usm.edu/commencement.