Longtime area businessman John Polk and U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo were honored recently as alumni of the year by the College of Business at The University of Southern Mississippi.
Polk, retired executive of Polk Meat Products and newly elected state senator, received the Boardman Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award during ceremonies held Nov. 17 at the Trent Lott Center. Palazzo, who is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, was presented the inaugural Outstanding Young Alumnus of the Year award.
“In discussions with our Business Advisory Council it occurred to us that we have a great number of alumni under the age of 50 who would qualify for this kind of recognition, so we elected to divide the award into two categories,” said Dr. Lance Nail, dean of the College of Business at Southern Miss. “Both of these gentlemen exemplify the kind of leadership qualities and business success we look for in nominees for this honor.”
A 1971 graduate of Southern Miss, Polk took over the family’s meat products business in 1974. Earlier this month Polk was elected to the Mississippi Senate from the 44th District. He said the distinguished alumnus award caught him completely by surprise.
“I have to admit that this one was not on my bucket list, because I never dreamed I would be honored in this manner,” said Polk, who makes his home in Lamar County. “This university means a lot to me and this entire region. My wife (Jan) and I have been proud supporters of Southern Miss for a long time and we are excited about the future of the College of Business here and the university as a whole.”
Palazzo, a Gulfport, Miss., native, earned his undergraduate degree in accounting from Southern Miss in 1994 and returned to obtain a master’s degree from his alma mater in 1996. He and his wife, Lisa, operate Palazzo & Company PLLC, an international CPA firm specializing in individual income taxes. A Republican, Palazzo was elected to the U.S. House from the Fourth District in 2010.
“As a proud Southern Miss alumnus, I am truly honored to be recognized as the first Boardman Outstanding Young Alumnus,” said Palazzo. “USM’s history of excellent faculty, a caring administration and wonderful students is why four generations of my family have called Southern Miss home. There is no doubt in my mind that my time at Southern Miss equipped me with the tools necessary to succeed.”
The Boardman awards are presented in conjunction with the Boardman Forum, established by Joseph Boardman of Gulfport. The Forum also sponsors the Boardman Entrepreneur of the Year award and fosters interaction with students through class presentations by professionals throughout the year.