Miss. Scholars’ Success Saluted

Published 9:44 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When Patricia Diamond planned out her collegiate future,officials at Mississippi State University quoted the price of aneight-year stint in veterinary school at $100,000.

It’s a steep price, but the 17-year-old Brookhaven High Schoolsenior will head to Starkville with a little financial assistancetucked into her back pocket after receiving a scholarship from MSUat Monday night’s fifth annual Mississippi Scholars Banquet.

“It’s the only college I applied to,” Diamond said. “Coming inhere, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and this means a lot to me.If you’re planning on going to college, this is the way to go.”

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Diamond was one of the stars of a record-breaking night for thelocal Mississippi Scholars program, which shattered expectationsand surpassed student and scholarship totals set last year thathave captivated every other scholars program in the state, and afew beyond Mississippi’s borders.

Though the total number of students from Lincoln County’s sevenhigh schools was down from 202 to 168 this year, 96 of thosescholars received scholarships funded by local businesses andorganizations and 11 colleges and universities from around thestate.

They shared a combined scholarship amount of $106,000, a totalthat beat last year’s then-record $92,000 contribution by $14,000.Had there been enough students to claim all the scholarships beingoffered by the colleges and universities, $146,000 could have beenawarded, said Mississippi Scholars Fundraising Chairman DavidCulpepper.

“On paper, there’s no way a community this size should be ableto do what we’re doing with this program,” he said. “With thesupport of the community and institutions of higher learning, weexpect to be right back where we were next year.”

Mississippi Scholars Chairman Kenny Goza called Monday night’sbanquet at Easthaven Baptist Church “unbelievable,” praising thecooperation between private enterprises, public education andmembers of the community that make the program more successfulevery year.

With the program well-grounded and well-funded, the mission fromnow on is to award scholarships to as many students as possible,Goza said.

“Our goal is to give everybody something. We didn’t attain thatgoal (Monday) night, we didn’t do what we hoped we could do, butI’m not disappointed,” he said. “That’s over 50 percent who gotmoney to help with college.”

The 96 students who received scholarships at the banquetrepresented about 53 percent of the total number of scholars thisyear, a good step toward the program’s goal of scholarships for allscholars. Thirty-six more students received scholarships than lastyear’s total of 60, when only about 30 percent of the students wererewarded with money for college.

The improvement was a fitting end for the Class of 2010, whichwas the first class to take part in Mississippi Scholars aseighth-graders. The program started small in 2006 and has growneach year, more than doubling itself the first four years. In 2006,there was $4,000 in scholarships awarded, with that totalincreasing to $16,500 in 2007, $37,000 in 2008, $92,500 in 2009 and$106,000 this year.

In all, the program has awarded $256,000 in scholarships tostudents from Lincoln County.

“We’re going to work hard to get every possible opportunity forthe students we can find,” Goza said. “We won’t let up on what wedo.”

Even though revenues have fallen in the economic recession andthe state’s colleges have had to make reductions of their own,there doesn’t appear to be any letting up among the institutions ofhigher learning, either. Mississippi Scholars make good collegestudents, and the universities hunger after them, putting thousandsof dollars into the program.

Delta State University Admissions Recruiter Casey Harlowattended her first Mississippi Scholars banquet Monday night toaward a scholarship to Mississippi School of the Arts studentMadeleine Miller.

She’ll be back.

“You’re getting the cream of the crop when you go to somethinglike that,” Harlow said. “Those students have met requirements moststudents don’t have to meet, and they’re an asset to ourcampus.”