BY EDWIN SMITH
Jonathan T.M. Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, told University of Mississippi graduates on Saturday to “pursue purpose, and not just success,” as they wrap up their journeys through college and enter the professional world.
During Saturday’s Convocation address, Reckford encouraged the approximately 10,000 people in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Ole Miss for the university’s 168th Commencement to “consider the really important matters” as they answer the questions “Who are you?,” “How will you define success?” and “How will you find your purpose?”
“Ultimately success will not be measured by what you’ve achieved, but by who you are, by your character,” Reckford said. “Studies have shown that there is very little correlation between wealth and happiness. You can be rich in so many ways.
“Service is a doorway by which we enter so many positive places together. In my experience, serving others and connecting to something larger than ourselves is where we find true joy.”
Reckford graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he was a Morehead Scholar. He also received a Henry Luce Scholarship, which enabled him to do marketing work for the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee and coach the Korean rowing team in preparation for the 1988 Summer Olympics.
The speaker said he was overwhelmed Saturday morning as he spoke before the Class of 2021 – a class of graduates marked by significant achievements, resilience and character. The Class of 2021 totals more than 5,000 graduates – 3,500 May 2021 graduates, more than 700 December 2020 graduates and more than 1,000 August 2021 graduates.
“Jonathan Reckford is a distinguished leader in the nonprofit and corporate worlds who will bring a savvy global perspective to our 2021 graduates and their families,” Boyce said. “I’m honored and grateful that he will extend our long legacy of distinguished Commencement speakers.
“As our graduates take the next step in their journey, I know they will be inspired by the keen insight he’s gained as head of a global organization that exemplifies the notion of servant leadership.”
Boyce recognized the Commencement ceremonies as the highlight of the academic calendar and expressed pride in the graduates.
“Today we recognize the success of our students, families, faculty and staff,” he said. “Today is a day to be enjoyed and remembered, a happy day for all of us. Our collective prayer for each of you is a life filled with joy, good health, successful and meaningful careers, and peace.”
During Saturday’s ceremony, Patrick M. Alexander, associate professor of English and African American Studies and co-founder of the UM Prison-to-College-Pipeline Program, was recognized as the 2021 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award winner. The honor is the university’s highest achievement for teaching.
JoAnn Edwards, speech instructor and director of forensics in the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, and Jacqueline Certion, former assistant director of the Foundations of Academic Success Track, or FASTrack program, in the College of Liberal Arts, were honored as this year’s Frist Student Service Award honorees for faculty and staff, respectively. Edwards is set to retire Aug. 5, and Certion died in December, but her impact continues to be felt across campus.
On Friday, Greg Tschumper, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was honored with this year’s Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award. Created in 2008, the award is the university’s highest honor for faculty success and outstanding accomplishment in research, scholarship and creative activity. Additionally, Alan Gross, professor of psychology, and Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies and professor of English, were appointed Distinguished Professors, which recognizes the best faculty with sustained excellence at the university. The award was created in response to the university’s strategic initiative to develop a post-professorial recognition.
Flint Christian, senior class president, announced the legacy of this year’s graduating class will be a gift of more than $22,000 donated to the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement’s Inclusive Excellence Retention Fund.
“We wanted to do a gift that could hopefully save a life of a future Ole Miss student,” he said.
In separate ceremonies Thursday and Friday evening, the university’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College graduates received their degrees, and recipients of doctoral degrees were honored at a hooding ceremony in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
Degrees were presented to graduates from their respective schools throughout the day Saturday, and ceremonies will continue on Sunday.
Reckford said the UM commencement was his first in-person event since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
“I am thrilled to be able to offer you my congratulations,” he said. “This is a great moment for you and your families.
“This clearly wasn’t the senior year that any of you had imagined or planned, but you are a very resilient group of college students who faced the challenges of remote learning, interrupted social lives and a daunting job market.”
Reckford said the candidates for graduation have learned so much more than the topics covered on their final exams.
“During the pandemic, you figured out new ways of doing things. You discovered an appreciation of the ordinary,” he said. “The shared experiences of COVID-19 have brought us closer together even as we’ve been physically separated. We’ve developed a deep empathy for those we love and found a calling to help those we’ve never met.”
For additional details and a complete 2021 Commencement schedule, visit the university’s Commencement website.
To read stories of students from the Class of 2021, visit the university’s Journey to Commencement website.