USM President: I never got into this to be the first anything - - The News for South Mississippi

New USM President: I never got into this to be the first anything

(Photo source: WDAM) (Photo source: WDAM)

Dr. Rodney Bennett describes his being named the University of Southern Mississippi's new president as a powerful message for kids across the country.

The official announcement came Thursday afternoon in Hattiesburg making Dr. Bennett the first black president of a predominantly white university in our state. He said he hopes his story can be an inspiration to children that with education, no dream is too big.

The history of the University of Southern Mississippi goes back 1910. The new president said he has vision for the university's future.

"I would like to see Southern Miss under my leadership become the institution of choice for high achieving students in the state of Mississippi and the Southeast region," said Dr. Bennett.

As Dr. Bennett steps in to a new role, he also realizes he is breaking new ground.

"I never got into this to be the first anything. I got into this because I wanted to really help young people go to college and be a part of what their experiences were like," Dr. Bennett said. "If in the process I became the first black, then so be it. But if my being here can make it easier for anybody who doesn't fit whatever it is that they think it is they need to fit to accomplish their goal, I'm okay with that. "

Dr. Bennett said his story is a testimony of how a good education and hard work can overcome obstacles.

"I think they see so few images of people who have reached a certain level in their careers who are not in the entertainment industry. That doesn't mean I'm knocking the entertainment industry," Dr. Bennett said. ""I think it's just a powerful message that so many young people can accomplish."

"The reality is as you very well know is there is only one Michael Jordan. There's only one of so many people that so many young people aspire to be," Dr. Bennett said. "If you go to school and invest in yourself and invest in education, there can be hundreds of thousands of kids who reach their full potential using education as the vehicle versus some other vehicle that is not going to sustain you over the long haul."

Dr. Rodney Bennett has been serving as Vice President of Student Affairs at the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a native of Knoxville. USM officials said it's not certain when he start work as president.

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