OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — The chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International on Saturday challenged University of Mississippi graduates to “pursue purpose, and not just success” as their collegiate careers end and they enter their varied professions.
Jonathan T.M. Reckford gave the Convocation address to about 10,000 people gathered at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Ole Miss for the 168th Commencement, the university said in a news release.
He told the more than 5,000 graduates to “consider the really important matters” as they answer questions like “Who are you?" and “How will you define success?” and “How will you find your purpose?”
“Ultimately success will not be measured by what you’ve achieved, but by who you are, by your character,” Reckford said. “Studies have shown that there is very little correlation between wealth and happiness. You can be rich in so many ways. Service is a doorway by which we enter so many positive places together. In my experience, serving others and connecting to something larger than ourselves is where we find true joy.”
Chancellor Glenn Boyce, in his introduction, noted Reckford's service to the nation and his accomplishments as a humanitarian, describing him as a distinguished leader in the nonprofit and corporate worlds.
“As our graduates take the next step in their journey, I know they will be inspired by the keen insight he’s gained as head of a global organization that exemplifies the notion of servant leadership,” Boyce said.
Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit housing organization working in local communities across the U.S. and in approximately 70 countries, according to his website. The organization says it has helped more than 35 million people with improved living conditions since 1976.
Reckford said the graduates have learned about much more than academics.
“During the pandemic, you figured out new ways of doing things. You discovered an appreciation of the ordinary,” he said. “The shared experiences of COVID-19 have brought us closer together even as we’ve been physically separated. We’ve developed a deep empathy for those we love and found a calling to help those we’ve never met.”
Reckford said the commencement ceremony was his first in-person event since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
“I am thrilled to be able to offer you my congratulations,” he said. “This is a great moment for you and your families. This clearly wasn’t the senior year that any of you had imagined or planned, but you are a very resilient group of college students who faced the challenges of remote learning, interrupted social lives and a daunting job market.”