Congratulations to the SMBHC Class of 2015!
The Honors College Commissioning Ceremony was held on Friday, May 8th, at the Gertrude Ford Center.
Zachery Newton’s Welcome
Welcome, honor graduates, friends and family, thesis mentors and all other guests to the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College commissioning ceremony. This wonderful program has become a home for many of us. We’ve traveled to New York City and Boston together, and we’ve spent many a long night at 1 Sorority Loop. As we go into the next chapters of our lives, which will likely involve paying for our own ink and paper, I can’t help but think about hitting the reset button and starting the four years over, but only if I didn’t have to see that 2011 BYU game again.
Thank you to all the parents in the audience for supporting your student, even though you might have been terrified that your college student was reading the Communist Manifesto their first semester in college. Thank you to our thesis mentors, who have guided us and put up with us through this process. Thank you to the honors faculty – you’ve challenged and inspired us to become better scholars and people. And my last thank you goes to this trifecta of leadership on this stage – we are the last honors class that will enjoy all four years under their combined direction – Provost Morris Stocks, our fearless Dean Sullivan Gonzales (we’ll never forget when you saved us from Dr. Paglia) and lastly, our incredible Chancellor Dan Jones. Your leadership and commitment to service have inspired us all, and truly serves as a model as we continue our development as citizen scholars.
Jillian Cowart’s Address
Thank you, Chancellor Jones, for that introduction. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your humble and courageous leadership during your time at the University of Mississippi. I know that I am joined by this entire audience in deep appreciation of your service to this University and all of its members.
I’d also like to extend a thank you to the faculty, friends, and family members who are present this evening. Your support is invaluable.
And to my fellow graduates: I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to all of you as we gather together as a group one final time. My time at the University has been enhanced by sharing classes and conversations with all of you, and it is precisely this idea of community that I would like to expand upon this evening.
I’ll start off with a story from my time in Sokone, Senegal, which was generously funded by the Barksdale Award in 2014 as I collected data for my thesis. While there, I conducted interviews with small farmers in the region who were participating in their local food system. Though every farmer that I spoke with had an impact on his or her community, one interview really stands out in my mind, partly because I had to take a motorcycle taxi to get to the interview site. That was indeed a slightly terrifying experience, an experience that I am just now electing to share with my parents who are probably somewhat distressed to learn that I rode a motorcycle while in West Africa. However, I’m glad that I did it because it gave me the opportunity to witness a truly incredible operation. The farmer that I spoke with that day was the Director of a Sustainable Farming Educational Center. He spent his time teaching Sokone’s citizens how to utilize sustainable methods in producing and selling their own food. For 25 years, he has shared his knowledge of diversifying crops and using organic fertilizer to the improvement of his community’s food security. He has a deep impact on his neighbors because he teaches them how to produce one of life’s basic necessities in a way that respects the natural environment. And though he is in Sokone, Senegal, we can learn a lot from him here in Oxford, Mississippi.
I tell you all this story because it shows that no matter where we end up, there are opportunities for us to have a meaningful impact on those around us, as does this particular farmer in Senegal.
The Honors College has certainly ensured that we use our education in a way that contributes to the greater good. The thesis requirement that we have all recently fulfilled is a wonderful example. The time, effort, and late nights in the Dungeon to produce this scholarly work would mean nothing if it weren’t for the fact that we publicly defend them and submit them for others to learn from and review. We are also further encouraged to ask how we can apply this research. Thus, we are currently in a place that challenges us to improve our community using the knowledge that we have gained.
However, tonight, we leave this place and enter a new phase of our lives. We’re going out into both socially constructed communities as well as natural and physical environments that need our talents to become healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable. The fact that we have made it through the past four years in this rigorous program shows that we have the skills necessary to effect positive change, alleviate others’ suffering, and improve the collective quality of life.
As a student body, we have witnessed and led many efforts at social change around campus. But now, upon graduation, we must take this potential to the places where we will live and work across the globe.
No matter the sector we enter upon graduation, I challenge each of us to find ways to use our knowledge to help others. This could take many forms, such as through advocating for equal pay for women within our workplaces, taking the initiative to start environmental awareness divisions of our companies, or creating new technologies that benefit the underserved. Let us all continue to be citizen scholars wherever we go.
Over the course of our lives, we will be presented with such opportunities. These opportunities may be scary, and they may require significant investments of time and talent. They may even necessitate that we are not among those who benefit from our efforts. However, by virtue of the education we have received through the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the broader University, we are charged with the task of pursuing them thereby contributing to the world around us.
I’ll end with this: Do what you love. But do so in a way that invests in the community where you are.
Phillip Waller’s Charge
For most of our lives, we’ve all been pushed to keep our GPAs high, join every organization this campus offers and make sure that we had some form of “leadership” and “service” attached.
But I think in the rush to high school to college to now, we may have gotten something lost in translation. We’ve stacked up these accolades, but what has it gotten us? In this quest for “leadership” and “service” did we actually serve those who we led. How do we know that we made a difference?
The answer I think, in part, is who we use as our examples. In this room today there are men and women, parents, grandparents, teachers, community leaders and others have made us who we are today. There are some, like Chancellor Dan Jones, DSG and Jim Barksdale, who, through the giving of their time, leadership and resources have shown us all what true servant leadership is.
So, that brings me to my charge to myself and to this class.
What we have learned from recent events is that when we come together, we are better than any individual. When we come together to speak truth to power, it is powerful. We have to care and show we care for our voices to be heard. If we don’t, we cede that power to those who would pursue their own goals.
For too long, our generation has been known for its apathy. As citizens and scholars, we must right this course. Wherever we go, we must stay active and involved. We should join a community group, give of our time, ask the questions that have not been asked, and always, always pursue a better world. Let us all be citizen scholars who are fired by the life of the mind, committed to the public good, and driven to find solutions.
Thank you all and may God bless you.