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Leaders urge graduates to serve worldly purpose

May 12, 2012

MSU University Relations

U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones of the U.S. Air Force both encouraged Mississippi State graduates to take advantage of the many opportunities of where, how and for whom they will serve in the future.

Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, addressed the university’s Saturday morning commencement program. Jones, U.S. Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, spoke at the Friday night ceremony. Each separately urged graduates to commit themselves to serving a purpose bigger than themselves.

More than 2,400 students were candidates for spring-semester diplomas.

Mabus stressed the importance of those who, in a much larger sense, make special days like graduation day possible, “those who have worn or are wearing the uniform of our country,” he said.

After reminding the audience that less than 1 percent of American citizens currently serve in uniform, the former governor proudly noted that “Mississippians serve in our military at a rate higher than almost any other place in this country.”

He also said service does not require joining a military branch, citing such examples as a teacher staying after school to help a struggling student, a nurse working beyond her shift to care for a patient, a neighbor mowing the yard of an elderly person and a farmer anonymously paying for a young person’s college education.

At the Friday program, Jones, an MSU education alumnus, reminded his audience that land-grant universities are built upon academic excellence, research and service.

“Service is part of the fabric of this institution, and service should be part of your fabric,” Jones said, noting that “serving others will help you define the person that you want to be and discover what you’re meant to be.”

In addition to presenting traditional degrees, MSU also honored two distinguished alumni with honorary doctoral degrees during the ceremonies.

James L. Flanagan of Warren, N.J., retired Rutgers University research vice president and 1996 National Medal of Science winner, accepted the honorary doctorate in science Friday night. A former Greenwood resident and 1948 MSU electrical engineering graduate, he worked at what was then Bell Telephone Laboratories for more than three decades, contributing to development of voice mail, speech recognition and the artificial larynx, among other modern technologies.

Robert B. Deen Jr. of Meridian, president and chairman of the philanthropic Riley Foundation, received an honorary doctorate in public service Saturday. A Tupelo native and 1943 Starkville High School graduate, he studied electrical engineering for a time at Mississippi State following Army Air Corps service in World War II.

A Vanderbilt University Law School graduate and attorney for 55 years, Deen is a founding member of both the Lauderdale County-based Phil Hardin and Riley foundations, as well as the Mississippi Bar Association Foundation.

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