Most days you can find Gloria Peterson serving comfort food to hungry and sometimes homesick Southern Miss students at the “Fresh Food Company” a restaurant located on campus in the Thad Cochran Center.
Peterson, a university food service associate, affectionately called ‘Ms. Gloria’ by students and faculty, is known for regularly shouting upbeat catch phrases like “How you percolating,” “It’s Hump-Day” and “It’s Friday!”
Last week, representatives from the Student Government Association surprised Peterson by honoring her as the 2018 Southern Miss Homecoming Parade Grand Marshal.
As Grand Marshal, Peterson will join one of the university’s oldest traditions and lead the homecoming parade down Hardy Street and through campus as well as choose the winning parade float.
“When Ms. Wynde Fitts brought up the topic of choosing a 2018 Grand Marshal at one of our homecoming meetings, one person at the table suggested Ms. Gloria before Ms. Wynde could even finish her sentence,” said Asia Montgomery, a junior elementary education major who is responsible for directing homecoming activities this year.
“Ms. Gloria is one of a kind,” she said. “She is truly loved by the Southern Miss student body. She is true to who she is and her beautiful personality will bring joy and happiness to anyone’s day. It never gets old to hear her asking everyone who comes through her line “Hey baby, how you percolating?” Fried Chicken Wednesdays (Hump Day) and Catfish Fridays would honestly not be the same without her.”
Montgomery said Peterson is one of those people who brings an abundance of positivity to campus.
“I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Southern Miss would not be the same without her” Montgomery said.
Peterson has devoted more than 26 years to creating a positive atmosphere for students and faculty at Southern Miss.
Peterson said her love and compassion for both the students and the university drives her to be happy when she serves students at the Fresh.
“I’ve never been to college, but I understand you’re away from home, away from your parents and away from your normal surroundings,” she said. “You don’t want to come in here and see sad faces. You need a smile every morning, and there’s no harm in smiling.”
“How you percolating,” is one of Peterson’s most well-known catch phrases. “God gave me that,” she said in regard to the phrase. “He sent that phrase to me years ago, and I’ve been saying it from then on to try to bring a smile to people’s faces.”
No matter what, Peterson makes an effort to remind students that every day is a great day.
Students often say Peterson’s catch phrases and upbeat attitude are their first memories at Southern Miss.
“This makes my heart so happy,” said senior English major Katie Miller. “When I had an 8 a.m. class my sophomore year, Ms. Gloria’s positive attitude made doing things that early in the morning so much easier.”
Other students who were present during the surprise mentioned that they have never seen Peterson without a smile on her face.
“The more you smile the prettier you’ll be,” quipped Peterson.
Last year, Peterson was named to Aramark’s 2017 Ring of Stars class, which is comprised of frontline employees who proudly serve the company’s customers and consumers.
She was selected for her ability to uplift people with a kind word or a warm welcome.
Although Peterson’s influence on students is obvious, she had no idea how important she was to the student body.
“I didn’t know people cared about me like this. This is more than an honor; y’all really don’t understand how much this means to me,” she said as tears rolled down her face.
Montgomery said she didn’t expect Peterson to be as surprised as she was.
“To see her excitement and those tears of joy really showed her love and appreciation for Southern Miss,” she said. “When she hugged me and cried on my shoulder, I could feel how grateful she really was.”
Sometimes, students will turn things around and ask Peterson how she is percolating.
“I love when students sneak that in on me,” she said. “They’ll be waiting for me not to say anything, and they say it. And it makes me smile. I understand why they smile when I say that.
“By the way, I’m percolating just fine.”
Teer is a student at the University of Southern Mississippi and a member of the editorial team of the student newspaper, The Student Printz.