South Graduates' 'Bittersweet' Moment

Posted on May 6, 2017
Alice Jackson

The University of South Alabama recognized 2,268 spring and summer degree candidates at Saturday’s two commencement ceremonies, which marked 50 years since the University graduated its first class in 1967.

District One Mobile County Commissioner and President Merceria Ludgood spoke to graduates at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony, and the European Union’s Ambassador to the United States, David O’Sullivan, addressed graduates during the 2 p.m. ceremony.

Ludgood thanked supporters of the graduates for their “investments” in helping them to obtain their degrees.

“Whether you offered academic counseling, whether you babysat, loaned them money or gave them money, or just offered words of encouragement … whatever contribution you gave made today possible,” Ludgood said. “You also made a significant investment in this community.”

Recalling that she received her first degree 43 years ago, she told the class “that this moment is a bittersweet one” because everyone’s future is full of changes, both good and bad. Describing her younger self as a “a rebel” because of her desire for social equality and justice, she advised the graduates to balance their own passions with family and friends while remaining loyal to community service.

Ludgood, a native of Mobile’s Crichton neighborhood, earned her law degree from the Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., and holds a master of divinity degree from the Alabama Interdenominational Seminary. She distinguished herself with her own legal practice before becoming director of the Office of Program Services in the national Office of the Legal Services Corporation. When returning to Mobile, she was a full-time assistant county attorney and assistant city attorney before she was elected to her present position in 2007.

Ludgood shared a personal insight from her experience as a prestigious Kellogg Fellow, traveling to 17 countries on five continents and interviewing women leaders.

“During that time, I heard someone say ‘we are responsible for what we have seen,’” Ludgood said. “I realized my own core set of beliefs were developed from things I was taught, things I have read and things I have heard.”

In closing, she encouraged the graduates to speak truth to power, have compassion for others, do the right things and always remember service to others.

O’Sullivan encouraged the graduates to “be proud, celebrate and enjoy” their achievements, and he advised them their future success “will never be entirely your own.”

“Don’t be afraid of saying ‘thank you’ to those who supported and helped you along the way,” he said.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, O’Sullivan oversees the EU’s bilateral relationship with the U.S. and the direction and work of the EU delegation, including political, economic and commercial affairs. His work supports the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in implementing the EU’s foreign policy, and he represents the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission.

He told the graduates he has seen and experienced enormous change during his own lifetime, then added they will likely see many more changes during their lifespans. He shared his personal rules for surviving, growing and succeeding when challenged with such changes:

  • Learn a language because it forces you to move outside yourself.
  • Stay in touch with your college friends and faculty.
  • Ambition can be an important driver, but don’t sacrifice integrity, family or friendships.
  • Be adaptable because life is full of twists and turns.
  • Accept adversity because there are always setbacks along the way, but how you deal with them defines character.
  • Embrace change because it teaches you to never give up.
  • Think about your place in society because it helps you keep perspective.

He advised the students to “be an active participant in the democratic process, and always seek sources of information with opposing views,” because it’s important to understand how others view issues.

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