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COLUMBUS, Miss.—Dr. Rita Felton challenged gradates to find a mentor and know their values during Mississippi University for Women’s spring commencement exercise that was held virtually Friday, April 23.

Felton began her address by thanking all parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, all the family members and friends who have cheered on graduates.

She then reflected on hashtags surrounding the year 2020 such as #COVID19, #distancing and #racialinjustice. Despite the surrounding crises and disruptions, Felton pronounced that today would be a day of new hashtags including #overcomers, #achievers, and #longblueline.

“Graduates, this is your day and yes, today it’s all about you. You have endured papers, projects, exams, labs, ups and downs and turnarounds,” said Felton. “Are you ready for your new beginning?”

To start their new course in life, Felton challenged graduates to ponder what will their hashtag be in six months, next year or even five years from now.

She then assigned graduates to find a mentor within one month.

Felton said, “Think about someone who is where you want to be. Someone who has made a difference in your life. When you look at them, you feel inspired. You feel encouraged.” 

Felton continued by sharing her excitement for the new leadership graduates will bring

in the 21st century. She acknowledged that graduating hasn’t been easy for some and recognized their personal trials and perseverance. 

“Some of you could have given up in the midst of the crisis. Some of you had more month than money, some of you had to delay your classes for a while, some of you had to make sacrifices for your family or your children. Some of you even had to put your studies on hold. You are here today. We are so happy for you. Your perseverance has paid off,” said Felton.

Next, she asked, “What are your values? Do you know? What do you stand for?”  

Felton shared her experience in basic training and how the values of the Air Force still allow her to excel even after retirement.

“Since my retirement in 2017, these values have come into sharper focus, and I find myself being comfortable with being uncomfortable because when you come accustom to committing yourself to something great you can’t settle for anything less,” explained Felton.

She then shared the core values of The W: respect, integrity, diversity, honesty, community, quality, love of learning and leadership.

“If you practiced these core values during your time here, I rest assured that you have a very good then foundation to stand on,” said Felton.  

She advised students to research their future places of employment and discover its values. For Felton, values are the “secret sauce” that make an organization’s culture stronger.

In closing, she encouraged graduates to be the best version of themselves, make good decisions and maintain the right attitude.  

Felton said, “Successful people make the right decisions early and manage those decisions daily.

“The best version of yourself can only come from within. So, continue to discover who you are.”

Felton is the first African-American female to serve as command chief master sergeant for the 14th Flying Training Wing, Columbus Air Force Base. In this role, she advised the wing commander on mission effectiveness, professional development, military readiness, training, utilization, health, morale and welfare. She retired from the United States Air Force with more than 30 years of honorable service.

She is the founder and CEO of Accentuate Life Ministries and Felton Consulting Group, LLC.


April 23, 2021
Contact: Tyler Wheat
(662) 241-7683
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