MSA graduates first senior class

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 23, 2005

Tasseled hats fluttered to the ground outside Mary Jane LamptonAuditorium on the Whitworth College campus when the MississippiSchool of the Arts’ first graduating class celebrated afterceremonies Saturday.

It was a day of celebration not only for the 38 graduatingseniors but also for the community who strived to see the schoolcreated and rode through the hills and valleys fighting for itscontinued existence for the past two years.

The school’s momentous opening and its struggle for survivalduring shrinking budgets were topics not ignored by the school’sexecutive director, Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer; guest speaker, HouseDistrict 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett; nor its students as theycongratulated the seniors on their success and determination.

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“For many of us, we never thought we’d get there and it’s myhonor to welcome you,” Bodenhamer said in opening her remarks. “Oursuccess is truly the result of diverse constituent groups acrossthe state.”

The school’s chief executive also praised the community fortheir support.

“I’ve lived and worked in seven states, but never have I seen aschool embraced like this one has been,” she said.

Barnett, whom Bodenhamer called “the father of MSA” for hisunswerving devotion to see the school develop and succeed, provideda quick summary of how the school originated and the ongoing fightwithin the legislature to see it funded each year.

“It’s a very historic day not only for you and for Brookhaven,but also the state of Mississippi,” Barnett told the seniors.

Monica Renee Smith of Gulfport, the class valedictorian,reminisced about their arrival at the school in its first days,when the dorm rooms were still incomplete and school supplies hadnot yet arrived. She said the class, then juniors, jokingly createdthe first school motto – “MSA: It’s on the Way” – and designatedthe school’s first mascot – “the UPS guy.”

Amazingly, she said, it all came together and the past two yearshad been among the best in her life. Now it was time to carry theirsuccess here into the colleges and their careers.

“The guinea pigs of last year have become the first graduatesthis year,” she said.

Carolyn Allingham Hardin of Waveland, the class salutatorian andvoted most popular as well as class clown, lived up to her comedicreputation in her address, mixing humorous memories and an avowedfondness to her alma mater with hopes of the future.

“We have a connection no other class will have,” she said. “Wewere the first. The guinea pigs.”

The school made her feel “more at home, with all the oddballs,than anywhere else in my life,” she said because her artistictalents and creative leanings made her feel like an outcast and”different” in the more traditional schools. At MSA, she said, shewas “still an oddball, but only one unique oddball among many.”

“I can walk through the campus and see students singing,painting, playing instruments or even playing football or tossingfrisbees. That’s not normal. Where else can you be dancing to themusic in your head and have someone start dancing with you?” sheasked. “I have never felt something so eternal and yet sofleeting.”

Dr. John Jordan, deputy superintendent of the state Departmentof Education, and Dr. Ronald Love, special assistant of stateschools and special projects for the department, assistedBodenhamer in handing out the diplomas.

Afterwards, the seniors raised their voices in song to unveilthe school’s theme song “MSA Alma Mater,” with lyrics by JeanneLebow and music by S. Patton Rice, both instructors at theschool.

Students gathered on the front lawn of the auditorium after therecessional for the traditional tossing of the graduation caps.

“As Shakespeare once said, ‘It is done!'” said graduate MarcusRoberts as he reclaimed his cap.