Nearly 1,500 Graduates Celebrated at Fall Commencement

Posted on December 15, 2023
Thomas Becnel

Jimmy Shumock at Commencement  data-lightbox='featured'
Jimmy Shumock, a member of the University of South Alabama Board of Trustees, delivered the Commencement address Friday morning at the USA Mitchell Center. Nearly 1,500 graduates were recognized.

Jimmy Shumock, a Mobile business leader and a member of the University of South Alabama Board of Trustees, urged fall graduates to put their “first-class education” to use in service to their communities.

In a Friday morning Commencement address at the USA Mitchell Center, Shumock asked South’s newest alumni to smile, then offered a SMILE acronym of advice for their future

The S stands for serving the community:

“I encourage you to get involved in something,” Shumock said. “Meet people. Put yourself out there. It takes time and you get back what you put into something. Building friendships and relationships is a little like putting some money in a savings account. Years later, you have much more than you invested.”

The M stands for mistakes, and how to learn from them:

“You are going to make mistakes at work, in relationships, in life in general. Own them, learn from them and try not to repeat them.”

The I stand for innovation:

“Embrace it. Don’t let it pass you by, no matter how hard it is. Be respectful with it. Be skeptical of it.”

The L stands for laugh:

“I learned a lot about how to laugh and be vulnerable from my wife. I learned to not take myself too seriously and to even laugh at myself. Debbie and I love people. We love to be in an environment where we can have fun and laugh.”

The E stands for ethics:

“Uphold high ethical standards in all your endeavors. Make decisions that not only benefit yourself, but also consider the well-being of others and the world around you.”

Nearly 1,500 degree candidates were recognized at fall Commencement. Thousands of friends and family members helped them celebrate. Some cheered during the ceremony, while others celebrated in their own way.

For Riley Roberts, a 30-year-old from Burleson, Texas, Friday completed her pursuit of a master’s degree in nursing. She looked relieved. 

“It’s kind of surreal,” Roberts said. “My nursing journey started with an associate degree, and then a bachelor’s degree, and working eight years as a nurse, and now I’m here. This is what I’ve been working toward for a long time.”

Grayson Ladd, a 22-year-old from Daphne, Alabama, enjoyed Commencement with friends and classmates.

“I’m a drama major with a geology minor — a wild mix,” Ladd said. “I love to get on stage and perform. At South, I got to do ‘Major Barbara,’ ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ and a play called ‘Fools.’”

Payton Gatto, a 22-year-old biology major from Mobile, had a concentration of study in marine science. She decorated her graduation cap with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme.

“I had a really good time at South,” Gatto said. “The marine science program at South is new and a lot of fun. I did a lot of classes at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and we’d go to the beach after class every day.”

Dr. Andi Kent, executive vice president and provost, led Commencement. She thanked the day’s graduates for helping South become the Flagship of the Gulf Coast.

“You should be proud,” she said. “You set a goal and worked for years to achieve it. The things you’ve learned and the friends you’ve made will help guide you for years to come. I should know. I’m one of you, a South graduate. I’ve stood in your shoes — your uncomfortable graduation shoes — and while it has been a few years, I walked across this very stage to receive a diploma and step toward the next challenge.”

Kent encouraged new South alumni to find meaning behind the pomp and circumstance of their Commencement.

“At some point, while you’re smiling and profiling, you’re going to feel the moment,” she said. “You might not cry, but you will notice a little tug in your chest. That’s just your heart telling you that today is your day, you’ve changed and you’ve grown, and your years at South just might matter more than you ever thought possible.”

Kent introduced Shumock as “a man whose heart bleeds red, white and blue.” He earned an accounting degree at South and went on to become chief executive officer of Thompson Engineering in Mobile. He’s a Jaguar sports fan, athletics booster and supporter of the Mitchell College of Business. While he was president pro tem of the USA Board of Trustees, South hired President Jo Bonner, launched the Stokes School of Marine and Environmental Sciences, and built Hancock Whitney Stadium on campus. 

“All that said,” Kent concluded, “one of the most important things to know about Jimmy Shumock is that he loves this University and has more Jaguar pride than any person I know.”

In his Commencement address, Shumock congratulated graduates and promised to be brief.

“I have been known to put the stopwatch on previous speakers,” he joked, “and I’m afraid someone might be timing me.”

Shumock said he was beyond grateful for everything the University of South Alabama has given him. His hope, as students make their way in life, is that they will look upon South as fondly as he does.

He asked everyone in the Mitchell Center to hold up a J symbol with their hands and chant “Go Jags” with him. His final words reminded graduates of his acronym of advice.

“Today signifies not just an end but a commencement — a commencement of new responsibilities, challenges and opportunities,” Shumock said. “As we bid farewell to this chapter, let us carry our SMILE with us — a beacon of hope and optimism lighting our paths ahead.”

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