Spring Graduates Told to Live with Purpose, Integrity

Posted on May 5, 2019
Alice Jackson

Ovie Mughelli, an environmental advocate and former NFL fullback, told graduates that "what you do has to be about more than a job, more than a paycheck. Your purpose in life is inside you." data-lightbox='featured'
Ovie Mughelli, an environmental advocate and former NFL fullback, told graduates that "what you do has to be about more than a job, more than a paycheck. Your purpose in life is inside you."

University of South Alabama graduates were implored to proceed with purpose and integrity by commencement speakers at Saturday ceremonies at the Mitchell Center.

A total of 2,167 degree candidates were recognized. Among them were four who received dual degrees. Students who graduated with honors included: 4.0 GPA, 35; summa cum laude, 101; magna cum laude, 129; and cum laude, 162. Twenty-nine students graduated from the University Honors College and five with departmental honors.

Six students received the first non-degree certificates awarded by the University’s PASSAGE USA program for students with intellectual disabilities. It is the first collegiate post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities in Alabama.

Ovie Mughelli, a former football player for the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons whose post-NFL career has focused on empowering youth and educating the public on living an ecologically friendly lifestyle, delivered the commencement address for the morning program. William J. “Happy” Fulford, whose USA career spanned nearly 40 years of service in governmental relations, alumni and development, addressed graduates during the afternoon program.

Mughelli, an All-Pro fullback in 2006 and again in 2011, told the degrees candidates that he wanted to give them advice from his own playbook as they prepared to enter the next stage of their lives. A son of Nigerian immigrants, Mughelli has embraced the American dream as a first-generation American, and he shared the three guiding principles he has followed in his own life:

  • Family. “My family is everything to me. Your love for family can be used as the driver for everything good that comes into your life.” Mughelli, who has three children, founded and uses his own charitable foundation to promote environmental education because a daughter was born with breathing problems made worse by environmental pollution.
  • Purpose. “I realized after my NFL career that what you do has to be about more than a job, more than a paycheck. Your purpose in life is inside you. You have that ability to be great, but only if you push yourself.” Besides sports and promoting environmental education, Mughelli has established “green” sports camps for young athletes and uses his dynamic personality and passion for sports serving as a media correspondent in television, radio and digital media for Fox Sports, Comcast Sports South, Raycom and CBS Sports Radio.
  • Mindset. “My life was not as easy as some people may think it has been. I’ve had adversity time after time. It’s that mindset where you refuse to lose. It’s an unrelenting drive for some to push forward and achieve.” During Mughelli’s nine seasons with the NFL, he was awarded the Falcons’ “Man of the Year Award,” the “Diamond Award for Excellence in Sports,” and he was a “Walter Payton Man of the Year Award” nominee in 2007.

Concluding his address, Mughelli gave the students a final challenge. “You have the skills. You have the factors to go out there and change the world. Do it. We need you!”

Fulford, a two-time USA graduate, told the graduates that when he began as a student at USA 51 years ago “I was scared like many of you might have been. I was the first person from my family to go to college, and I was the first person to get a college degree.”

A recent retiree, Fulford advised them to “look at things with a new perspective, face challenges and embrace new opportunities.”

Then, he recommended they embrace the importance of integrity in their lives and how it impacts all aspects of life:

  • “Integrity is personal and individual. Measure your own integrity and not others.” He advised them to keep a daily score of how well they develop and use integrity.
  • “Integrity is the gateway to all other virtues, such as compassion, empathy and hard work.” Fulford said many of the important things in life are easier with integrity.
  • “Use your integrity to stay away from the gray areas of your life.” He urged them to make it the compass for developing their moral conscience.

“I challenge you to protect your integrity. My mother always told me in dealing with those gray areas to think about if I was about to do something I could tell her about,” Fulford said. “And, finally, always do the right thing even when nobody is watching.”

Happy Fulford, longtime USA executive director of governmenal affairsWilliam J. "Happy" Fulford, South's longtime executive director of governmental affairs, urged graduates to use integrity to develop their moral conscience.  “Stay away from the gray areas of your life.”  

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