HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi
Having already accepted a job out of state, Joe Paul was unable to participate in graduation exercises after earning his bachelor's degree from The University of Southern Mississippi.
"I finished in the mid-year term in March, and by the May 1975 commencement I was working at a full-time job in Louisiana," said Paul, who is Vice President for Student Affairs at Southern Miss.
He remembers exiting Joseph Green Hall after his final undergraduate class, feeling both excited and melancholy. "I walked the campus silently, visiting some of my favorite places, and was a bit sad then thinking I might not pass this way again," he said.
But Paul would be back in 16 months to accept a job at his alma mater and has remained ever since, serving in various capacities in Student Affairs administration. After announcing his retirement recently from the University after a 40-year career, he was chosen as the keynote speaker for Southern Miss's spring 2015 commencement on Friday, May 8. He will also serve as the speaker for commencement at the University's Gulf Park Campus on Saturday, May 9.
"I've been privileged to attend many commencements and have seen over 100,000 students graduate, so to be able to address the last commencement of my tenure is both exciting and humbling," he said.
Paul said he plans to reminisce about his experiences at Southern Miss and what the institution means to him during his commencement address. "And of course, I won't be able to avoid the temptation to give the graduates some life advice," he said.
A Bay St. Louis, Miss. native, Paul became vice president of student affairs at Southern Miss in 1993. He also served the University as assistant director of student activities, assistant vice president and dean of student development. He also teaches in the graduate program in educational leadership in the College of Education and Psychology.
Paul holds a Ph.D. in administration of higher education from the University of Alabama and was named the university's Most Outstanding Doctoral Student in the field in 1985. He earned a bachelor's degree in communication and political science from USM in 1975, graduating magna cum laude from the University Honors College. He received a master's degree in communication and management from Southern Miss in 1978, and was inducted into the University's Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 1978, Paul was named the National Association of Student Personnel's Outstanding New Professional, and in 1981, the Jaycees named him Mississippi's Outstanding Young Man. He is also a 1987 graduate of Leadership Mississippi.
Paul decided to attend Southern Miss after receiving a call during his senior year in high school from the Dean of the USM Honors College, Wallace Kay, who encouraged him to come up and interview for admission. "That visit, and all the Honors College had to offer, sealed the deal for me," Paul said.
When he arrived on the Southern Miss Hattiesburg campus in the fall of 1972, he did so surreptitiously. "I didn't have a car that semester, so I had my mother drop me off about a block from Scott Hall where I was to check in to my dormitory room, because I didn't want folks to know my mom had brought me to college," Paul said.
When Paul checked in at Scott Hall, working behind the desk was current Dean of Students Dr. Eddie Holloway, then a student assistant at the dormitory. The two wound up working closely together throughout their careers at USM.
"Dr. Paul's hallmark is student-centered services. It is appropriate for him to culminate his employment in Student Affairs as our spring 2015 commencement speaker," said Dr. Holloway. "Students and parents love him for his care, giving and support for Southern Miss. He has lived a life of civic service, often championing causes for the underserved."
As a mentor to many students throughout his career, Paul encourages students to embrace his mantra "Leave It Better Than You Found It" during their time at Southern Miss.
"I've always believed students would prosper and grow best from being deeply engaged in their college experience, to put a hand on the wheel of this place and make a difference," Paul said. "I started challenging students in orientation and any other forum available to begin with the end in mind, and to leave Southern Miss better for having been here. To my delight, this resonated with students and has become a part of our campus culture."
One of those students was Bob Pierce, who like Paul returned to Southern Miss after working in the private sector to become executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association. He is now Vice President of Advancement at the University.
"I'm thrilled Dr. Paul will serve as our May commencement speaker. When his career at Southern Miss draws to a close June 30, it will leave a significant gap at the University as he will indeed be missed," Pierce said.
"Very few people have been as profound an influence on so many of our students and alumni as has Joe Paul. I have greatly enjoyed working with him these past 17 years, and knowing him since I was a student dating back to the late 1980s. He has truly been a wonderful professional colleague, mentor and friend, and I wish him all the best."
As a result of the success of the recent retirement roast fundraiser dinner for Dr. Paul, a new endowed scholarship has been created in his name. The event, held, April 24, raised $25,000. In addition, there will be a campus retirement reception honoring Dr. Paul on Monday, May 11 in the Trent Lott Center rotunda from 4 - 5:30 p.m. This event is open to the public and faculty, staff, students and community members are invited to visit with Dr. Paul and congratulate him on 40 years of dedicated service to Southern Miss.
"My love and gratitude for Southern Miss runs deep," Paul said. "This place literally raised me, educated me, supported me and gave me this wonderful career. I marvel at the fact that I have been able to come to work every day and have a chance to help others."