As Commencement approaches at the University of Mississippi, I would like to congratulate our wonderful faculty, staff, and students on another successful and memorable semester. This week of festivities is a superb time to review past accomplishments and, as the very name “commencement” suggests, to look forward to the vibrant beginnings to come.
First and foremost, Sharon and I express our deep gratitude and excitement for being at Ole Miss — starting on our very first day with an exciting Sugar Bowl victory in my hometown and getting even better as we moved throughout the semester. We have felt fully embraced as part of the UM community. We have experienced great joys together, and you helped us get over difficult personal times, such as Sharon’s mom’s passing two weeks ago. Thank you for your support.
To all those graduating with the Class of 2016, I look forward to conferring your degrees — approximately 5,700 of them — at the Oxford convocation on Saturday and the UMMC convocation on May 27. I hope you and your families and friends enjoy this celebratory time. You will appreciate over time, as many of us have, how special this time of your life is. You will remember professors who instilled rigor and knowledge that you will draw upon over the course of your entire life. You will remember special staff members who offered you a hand when you needed one. And you will leave with one of the greatest gifts a college experience can confer: relationships both deep and lifelong.
On a side note, forecasters this morning predicted ideal weather for Saturday morning’s Commencement in the Grove, where, I am told, more than 15,000 chairs will be set up, a sight I am eager to witness.
During the 2016 spring semester, we have celebrated many exciting developments at Ole Miss — too many to list, so let me share but a few: The Carnegie Foundation has elevated the University of Mississippi to the “R1 Doctoral Universities — Highest Research Activity” classification, placing us among the top 2.5% of universities nationwide. Our faculty and students were regularly featured in international news stories for their role in one of the decade’s top scientific discoveries, confirming Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves! In Jackson, with the help of campaign co-chairs Joe and Kathy Sanderson, our UM Medical Center is well on its way to raising $100 million to expand our renowned Batson Children’s Hospital. Here in Oxford, we were named a top school for military personnel and veterans and ranked in the top 20 for “Overall Best Quality of Life.” Both our Patterson School of Accountancy and our forensic chemistry programs were ranked in the top 10. Our University Museum was ranked 12th best nationally. We dedicated a fantastic new basketball arena, set attendance records in baseball and softball, and have cleared land for our largest-ever academic building project, a new science building along All American Drive. The common thread running through all our successes is the tireless work of talented faculty and staff, the achievement of our students, and the passionate support of our Ole Miss alumni family and friends.
We have just completed the Flagship Forum, my 100-day listening and learning tour we launched in late January. It generated much productive discussion about how to move our great university forward to the next level of excellence. Key to developing our full potential is to capitalize on our synergies and strengths across our campuses and among our college and schools. In early June, we will hold a university-wide retreat for senior leadership to help envision overarching goals, build collaborations, and enhance resources.
Inclusion and engagement are core values of mine, and I pledge to keep you informed and involved as we proceed. Please mark your calendars for the Town Hall meeting on August 29 and come prepared to engage in the conversation. Planning discussions will pick up in the new academic year.
Congratulations again on a superlative spring semester and best wishes for a peaceful and productive summer. Our great university continues to grow and thrive because of your collective efforts. As we go forward together, we will count on your energy and ideas. Working together, our potential is unlimited.
Jeffrey S. Vitter