More than 50 years after he set foot on the Hattiesburg campus as a University of Southern Mississippi student, Dr. Joseph S. Paul’s special kinship with his alma mater will come full circle when he is inaugurated as the University’s 11th president next month.
The official Inauguration Ceremony is set for 3 p.m., Oct. 5 at Bennett Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus. The event is open to the public and will be livestreamed.
Behind the scenes, a group of 20 inauguration committee members have worked diligently to ensure the esteemed ceremony proceeds smoothly. Jerry DeFatta, Executive Director of the USM Alumni Association, serves as the committee chairperson. He notes the significant role the Inauguration Ceremony plays in Paul’s presidency.
“An inauguration marks the beginning of a new direction. Dr. Paul has had a little over a year to evaluate Southern Miss and this is his opportunity to share his vision for the future of our University,” said DeFatta. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of a large organization, so this event provides a unique opportunity to take a step back and analyze where we have been and provide some perspective on where we are headed.”
The Inaugural Ceremony, or investiture, is an academic tradition originating in English universities. The word “investiture” comes from the Latin phrase for “dress in robe,” and this term used in academia refers to the donning of the university’s regalia. The ceremony is an important institutional event that formally marks a new era of leadership.
The event includes many academic traditions and protocols, including an academic procession with delegates from other colleges and universities, as well as faculty of the host institution. The ceremony typically features musical selections, greetings from university and community groups, introduction of the president, an address, the official transfer of institutional leadership, and the singing of the Alma Mater.
The Paul Inauguration festivities include a Gulf Coast Community Celebration set for Wednesday, Oct. 4 from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Hardy Hall Courtyard on the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. The event is free and open to the public.
Following the Investiture Ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 4, a Hattiesburg Community Celebration will be held from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Spirit Park on USM’s Hattiesburg campus. The event is free and open to the public.
Dr. Monika Gehlawat, Associate Director in the School of Humanities, will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies for the inauguration. She has been impressed by the committee’s commitment to excellence as the premier event draws closer.
“I am learning so much about the University by participating in the process of planning the inauguration,” said Gehlawat, who was recently named the Moorman Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. “The teamwork and camaraderie I’ve witnessed are truly exceptional and we’ve had some great laughs along the way. Dr. Paul could not have asked for a more capable and creative group of people to collaborate on this effort. They all deserve a lot of credit.”
Paul began his duties as USM’s 11th President on Nov. 1, 2022, after having served in the interim role since July 16th of last year. For more than 40 years, he served the University as a student affairs administrator.
He 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. The Bay St. Louis, Miss., native earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and political science from USM in 1975, graduating magna cum laude from the University Honors College, and received a master’s degree in communication and management from Southern Miss in 1978. He was inducted into the University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame in 2000.
USM students, faculty, and staff have been universal in their praise for Paul’s leadership over the past 14 months. Many point to a renewed sense of spirit and determination prevalent across all segments of the University community.
“As Dr. Paul has described several times, every measurable indicator of success is up at the University,” said DeFatta. “I believe a major reason for that success is found in the positive leadership he has provided over the past year. “Dr. Paul is present and works every day to engage each of our diverse constituencies. There is an excitement here that I have not seen in years, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”
Added Gehlawat: “We have been so excited to have Dr. Paul back at USM and at the helm. He is widely respected and admired. He is dedicated to the institution and connected to so many current and former students. Those of us who knew Dr. Paul before he stepped away from USM were especially thrilled that he was returning to take on this leadership position.”