HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the University of Southern Mississippi
Dr. Andrew Wiest doesn't recall who the keynote speaker was at his college graduation. But the popular University of Southern Mississippi history professor, who will give the school's fall 2014 commencement address, does remember his grandmother traveling from Kansas City, Mo. to see him receive his diploma.
"Grammy hardly ever came down to Hattiesburg; that distance was tough on her. But she came down for my graduation," said Wiest, founding director of the university's nationally recognized Dale Center for the Study of War and Society. "She was here to see me walk across that stage in Reed Green (Coliseum). It was that wonderful family connection, and celebrating with my friends afterward, that let me know what an important event graduation really was."
At the same site where he was awarded his undergraduate and master's degrees, Wiest will speak at two commencement ceremonies Friday, Dec. 12 at Reed Green Coliseum - the first at 10 a.m. with graduates from the Colleges of Arts and Letters, Health, and Science and Technology, and then at 2:30 p.m. for those earning degrees from the colleges of Business, Education and Psychology and Nursing.
Even if the graduates forget him in the years to come, Dr. Wiest hopes they'll recount those relationships with family and friends when they reminisce about the occasion. Meanwhile, he's working on a message he hopes will resonate with them.
"Sure, there will be a couple of corny jokes, and I'll try to say something these graduates will remember for a while," he said. "But graduation isn't about my talk; it's about the accomplishments of the students, and the love and support of their families," he said. "So I will get out of the way in a hurry and let the spotlight shine where it should."
Dr. Wiest was born in Chicago, but raised in Hattiesburg. After graduating from Hattiesburg High School, he attended Southern Miss before going on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Specializing in the study of World War I and Vietnam, Dr. Wiest has served as a visiting senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in the United Kingdom and as a visiting professor in the Department of Warfighting Strategy in the United States Air Force Air War College. Active in international education, he leads a study-abroad program on World War II to London and Normandy each summer, and he developed the University's award-winning Vietnam Study-Abroad Program.
Dr. Wiest has published several books on various topics in the field of military history, including The Boys of '67: Charlie Company's War in Vietnam (Osprey), Vietnam: A View from the Front Lines (Osprey), Haig: The Evolution of a Commander (Potomac) and Vietnam's Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN (New York University Press), which won the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award.
He has worked on and has appeared in several documentaries for the History Channel, Granada Television, the Military Channel, the National Geographic Channel and LucasFilms. The National Geographic Channel recently aired Brothers in War, a documentary adapted from The Boys of '67. A devoted supporter of the University, Dr. Wiest is a member of its Alumni Hall of Fame.
Honors College student Dawne Kennedy of Hattiesburg, a history and foreign languages double major who graduates this semester, hadn't planned on participating in the commencement ceremony. But when Dr. Wiest told her he would be giving the address, she changed her mind.
With mobility issues caused by injuries from a car accident, and with plans to pursue a graduate degree, Kennedy had already decided she would save the cap and gown routine for later. But she's come to know Wiest pretty well during her college career, serving as a tutor for his undergraduate students and through her service as president of the university's chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society.
"He told me it wasn't for myself that I was walking, but for everyone who'd mentored and supported me while I was at USM," she said of Wiest's attempts to change her mind. "He could tell I was waffling. Then, he asked me if it would make a difference to know he would be giving the commencement speech. I laughed and said, 'Fine! Fine... I'll walk.'
"He's accessible to his students and one of those special professors who makes history come alive," Kennedy said. "Having someone I know and respect be part of the graduation ceremony was a clincher for my decision to participate in commencement."
Wiest said he's proud of Kennedy and all his future fellow alumni, and the education they share. "Dealing with our modern day laundry list of problems takes people who can think," Wiest said. "From voting, to developing a cure for cancer, or helping make the world a more just place in which to live — it all takes people who know, understand, think, and dream. Those are the exact qualities that a Southern Miss education imparts; those are the qualities that the future needs."
For more information about Southern Miss commencement, visithttp://www.usm.edu/commencement.