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Saunders celebrated with inauguration at Southern Miss

The University of Southern Mississippi celebrated new President Martha Saunders on Friday in a formal inauguration that took months to plan.

Saunders is a Southern Miss grad and the university’s first female president. Bagpipes played as the audience stood for her procession during a ceremony that was poignant at times.

Gov. Haley Barbour hailed the university’s progress as it nears its 100th anniversary.

“This university and this state are blessed to have Dr. Saunders here for the centennial and that bright future,” Barbour said.

Saunders graduated from Southern Miss in 1969. She has already helped change the school’s culture since taking over in May, Faculty Senate president Stephen Judd said.

He noted that increased transparency and communication are already appreciated on campus and said Saunders had the trust of the people she leads.

Southern Miss graduate and Columbus State (Ga.) University President Frank Brown used to work with Saunders and called the hire “one of the most positive changes in the long, rich history of this institution.”

Saunders said she intends to bring Southern Miss to national attention.

“We will maintain an unrelenting commitment to topflight educational experiences, and we will do this, in part, by reducing, then eliminating, barriers to student success,” she said. “The biggest challenge should be in the classroom,” she said, not in the bureaucratic mazes and obstacle courses.”

Those at the inauguration seemed to like what they heard from Saunders.

“You could tell from the way she talked she was excited to be here and be back home,” said Jerry Ursin, a 19-year-old freshman from New Orleans.