OXFORD, Miss. – Acknowledging national and global crises, University of Virginia president Teresa A. Sullivan challenged University of Mississippi graduating seniors Saturday (May 9) to remain engaged, improve themselves and their communities and shoulder responsibilities.
“In a world full of problems, this University of Mississippi Class of 2015 is a well-educated, highly-trained team of problem-solvers,” Sullivan said during her address at the university’s 162nd Commencement ceremony in C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum. “In fact, we expect spectacular, groundbreaking, earth-shattering things from you. We expect you to solve the difficult problems that have confounded us in our time.”
Since taking office in 2010, Sullivan has led UVA through a period of significant progress. In fall 2012, she launched an effort that produced a new strategic plan for the university, the Cornerstone Plan. Sullivan also oversaw completion of a $3 billion capital campaign that will help ensure the institution’s stability and spur innovation in a period of significant financial pressure in higher education.
“Dr. Sullivan is perhaps best known nationally for her leadership on two key issues in higher education,” said Chancellor Dan Jones, who introduced the speaker. “First, the relationship between the publicly appointed boards of public universities and the institutional academic leadership and, second, the merging issues of sexual assault, alcohol use and Greek life on university campuses.”
After Rolling Stone published an account of an alleged sexual assault at a UVA fraternity house last year, sparking a national scandal, Sullivan demonstrated remarkable leadership in her measured, but firm, response and her dedication to providing a safe environment for all students, Jones said.
“Though Rolling Stone has since withdrawn the story and apologized publicly for misreporting, Dr. Sullivan did not dodge the opportunity to evaluate campus policies and practices to assure student well-being,” he said.
Sullivan, in turn, praised Jones as one of the strongest models of values in action.
“Through his ethical leadership, through his personal integrity, through his commitment to pursue the best interests of the University of Mississippi – even at considerable cost – Chancellor Jones has provided a living lesson for all of you,” Sullivan said. “I hope that you will remember his model of exemplary leadership and exceptional humanity as you prepare to assume positions of leadership in your own careers and communities across the nation and around the world.”
Showers forced university officials to move Commencement from its planned location in the Grove. Individual school ceremonies were also shuffled to the coliseum and other rain locations across campus. This is the last graduation for the coliseum, which will be replaced late this year by the new Pavilion at Ole Miss, under construction nearby.
Before Sullivan’s speech, Grady Lee Nutt II of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the 2015 senior class, announced the creation of the Chancellor Dan Jones Endowed Service Scholarship. Following a lengthy standing ovation, Jones, visibly moved by the many supportive remarks, said serving as UM chancellor for the past six years has been the highest era of his professional career. His tenure ends in mid-September per a decision by the State Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees not to renew his contract.
Referencing humanitarians such as Robert F. Kennedy, Walt Whitman and Martin Luther King Jr., Sullivan acknowledged the progress that has been made in human equality and envisioned future evolution in societal attitudes.
“We have come a long way from the days of segregation and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, but we still have a long way to go, as recent crises in cities across the nation have shown us,” Sullivan said. “I hope you will apply the knowledge and training you have acquired here to continue bending the arc of history toward justice, and equality and harmony among people of all races.
“As you leave here, remember to carry with you the values that you have learned – values of honor, hard work, respect for others, civility and reconciliation. In those moments when you are put to the test, you may be tempted to compromise your values. Resist that temptation.”
This year’s graduating class included nearly 2,800 spring candidates for undergraduate and graduate degrees, plus more than 1,200 August graduates.
Among the attendees, William and Angela Dykeman of Forest came to watch their son, Matthew, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
“This is a great experience for us,” William Dykeman said. “Thirty years ago, I earned my degree in electrical engineering from here. Our daughter, who is graduating from high school later this month, is planning to enroll here this fall.”
Kenny Lindsay of Cape Girardeau, Missouri said he and his wife, Roxie, were excited to watch their granddaughter, Megan Lynn, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English.
“We’re as proud as we can be that she’s graduating from Ole Miss,” said Kenny Lindsay, who was in Oxford with other family members. “Neither one of us ever had more than a high school education, so this is a huge achievement within our family.”
Louis Shivers of Natchez came to see his friend, Lewis Bridges of Grenada, receive his specialist degree in curriculum and instruction.
“I’m so proud of him for his diligence which led to this accomplishment,” Shivers said. “As an older student, he had to financially support himself. Even through his illness, he really did wonderfully.”
Following the general ceremony, the College of Liberal Arts and the Oxford campus’ eight schools held separate ceremonies to present baccalaureate, master’s, Doctor of Pharmacy and law diplomas. Sports talk broadcaster Paul Finebaum was the speaker for the Khayat School of Law, Federal Express executive Rose Jackson Flenorl addressed the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, and entrepreneur Edith Kelly-Green spoke at ceremonies for the Patterson School of Accountancy.
Recipients of doctoral degrees were honored at a hooding ceremony Friday evening in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, where three awards were presented by the Graduate School. The Group Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education went to the Department of Civil Engineering. Chancellor Jones received the Individual Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education. John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry, was presented the Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.
During Saturday’s ceremony, Robert Brown, professor of political science, was honored as the recipient of the 2015 Elise M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, presented annually to the campuswide outstanding teacher.
Charles L. Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was named the recipient of the university’s eighth Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award.
The university also recognized the winners of this year’s Frist Student Service Awards: Anne McCauley, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability, and Luca Bombelli, associate professor of physics and astronomy.