By Justin Whitmore
Retired Maj. Gen. Augustus Leon Collins told University of Mississippi graduates on Saturday to focus on the things that define them and to “be proud, be bold, be open-minded, be determined and be wise,” as they wrap up their journeys through college and into the professional world.
Collins, former commanding general of the Mississippi National Guard and president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, encouraged the approximately 12,000 people in The Pavilion at Ole Miss for the university’s 166th Commencement to be proud of their achievements, be bold in their pursuits, be open-minded to new challenges life throws at them, be determined to give a little bit extra to achieve greatness and be wise about what is important in life.
Finally, he urged graduates to be benevolent, give back and serve as worthy ambassadors for the university.
“We will depend on you to tell the goodness that is Ole Miss,” Collins said. “We will rely on you to recruit quality students, such as yourself, to fill our ranks.
“We expect that of our graduates and because of that, we do not give degrees out lightly. This was not easy. It wasn’t supposed to be. It took time and energy, but you started it and you finished it. Be proud of yourself and be proud of your university.”
A native of Booneville, Collins earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from UM in 1982. He enlisted in the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 198th Armor Regiment in March 1977 and served until his retirement in August 2016. Collins said he was overwhelmed Saturday morning as he spoke before more than 5,500 graduates – including more than 3,400 May graduates, 785 December 2018 graduates and some 1,300 August graduates – about his university and what it means to him.
“We were supposed to have this ceremony in the Grove, but Mother Nature had her own plans,” said Collins, who also brought greetings on behalf of the Alumni Association. “But as I stand here and look across the Pavilion, I realize it doesn’t matter if it’s in the Grove or here in the Pavilion, there is no more breathtaking sight than graduation day at Ole Miss.”
Because of inclement weather, the morning ceremony was moved to the Pavilion, marking the first time Commencement exercises have been held in the facility.
In his introductory remarks, Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks noted Collins’ numerous awards and recognitions, his service to the state of Mississippi and his honors and accomplishments in the business world. He also recognized the institution that turned Collins into the man he became.
“Gen. Collins’ presence here today is particularly special, not only because he is such an accomplished individual, but because he is a distinguished alumnus of the University of Mississippi,” Sparks said. “He has been in your place, which makes his experience, insight and wisdom that he will share with you all the more pertinent.”
Sparks 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, John Young, associate professor of psychology, was recognized as the 2019 Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award winner. The honor is the university’s highest achievement for teaching.
Law professor Ron Rychlak was honored with this year’s Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award for his nationally and internationally renowned scholarship on an array of disciplines, including criminal law, gambling law, environmental law, international law and the study of religions in times of war.
Michael Barnett, chair and associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Film, and Cindy May, associate director of financial aid, were honored as this year’s Frist Student Service Award honorees for faculty and staff, respectively.
2019 senior class President Zachary Ryan DiGregorio announced the legacy of this year’s graduating class will be a gift of $6,700 donated to the Ole Miss Counseling Center.
“We wanted to do a gift that could hopefully save a life of a future Ole Miss student,” he said.
In separate ceremonies 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 and the College of Liberal Arts at separate ceremonies throughout the day Saturday.
Collins encouraged graduates to maintain and build the ties they have with their university.
“I’m just an old country boy from Booneville, Mississippi, but I’ll tell you what else I am,” he said. “I am an Ole Miss Rebel; I’m all-in. For those graduating today, I hope you are all-in, too.
“You are leaving a part of yourself here, but you are also taking a part of Ole Miss with you. Mississippi has a number of very fine colleges and universities, and if you are looking to get a quality education, you can do that at any one of them. But, ladies and gentlemen, there is only one flagship university, and we are it.
“Ole Miss Class of 2019, the world is waiting for you, and I have just one question: Are you ready?”