The University of Southern Mississippi has provided its spring 2017 graduates the tools needed to make a successful future, if they use them to make that future a reality.
That was central to the message James S. "Jim" Franks delivered as keynote speaker for the University's commencement ceremonies May 12 at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg and May 13 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi. Franks, a senior research scientist at USM's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL), is an internationally recognized marine life expert with more than 40 years' experience working in the Gulf of Mexico.
Franks joined the graduates in becoming alumni of USM, as he was awarded a Doctor of Science, honoris causa. As USM President Rodney D. Bennett conferred the degree, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Moser and Vice President for Research Gordon Cannon hooded Franks at the third of the three Commencement ceremonies.
"It is an incredible honor to receive this honorary doctorate from this great university," Franks said. "For me, it's an overwhelming experience and a major milestone...I will cherish this honor and this day for the rest of my life."
Franks, a faculty member in the School of Ocean Science and Technology, noted that as the graduates took a "victory lap" in celebrating the successful conclusion in their quest for a degree, the moment also served as the start of a new "adventure" in their life journey, one that is "empowered with knowledge."
"Whatever future you might be contemplating – a job, graduate school, post-doctoral appointment, internship, professional school – Southern Miss has invested in you in providing an education that equips you to build your future, and you have a responsibility to do so.
"You aren't leaving this building today with just an education, you're walking into a world that offers opportunities – hopefully great opportunities."
For those graduates who do not have the next chapter written out for their life's journey, Franks urged patience, but to also be on the lookout for opportunity when it reveals itself - and then grab it. "You will find what inspires, motivates and fulfills you as you navigate along your journey to the top," he said.
Danielle Bailey of Mountain Lake, N.J., earned her Master of Coastal Sciences at Friday's afternoon commencement in Hattiesburg from the College of Science and Technology. Bailey was a graduate assistant in GCRL's Center for Fisheries Research and Development, working with Franks as she studied shark physiology. In him, she found a role model who reinforces her passion for educational outreach in marine science and research in the field.
"I'm so inspired by the way he approaches research and the work he does locally with marine life," Bailey said. "He's so great at what he does, and is well-liked by everyone. You can do a lot when the community appreciates what you do. I want to follow his lead."