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McRaney to speak at MSA graduation

One shining Mississippi star is supporting what he considers thestate’s best chance to really make an impact on the entertainmentscene this Saturday when the Mississippi School of the Arts holdsits commencement on the campus at Southwest Mississippi CommunityCollege.

Actor Gerald McRaney, of “Major Dad” and “Simon & Simon” fame,will speak at MSA’s graduation Saturday, capping off a year thathas seen quite a bit of turmoil, change and growth, said ExecutiveDirector Suzanne Hirsch.

“We knew we wanted to have a commencement speaker this year, andhe’s been the first person to respond to the school at all, andhe’s very passionate,” said Hirsch. “When he was here and wastalking about his background to the students, they were able to askhim questions and he gave them great insights.”

So, Hirsch said, after McRaney visited the school in late February,school officials decided to give it a shot and see if he’d like tobe the keynote speaker for the ceremony.

“I knew it was a long shot, because he’s a busy guy. He’s got apilot on NBC, there’s a movie he’s shooting, and he’s working onother projects,” Hirsch said. “But he really wanted to doit.”

MSA’s graduation ceremony will be held at the Southwest MississippiCommunity College Fine Arts Building at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

McRaney’s last visit came just before he spoke at the NatchezLiterary Festival, and he used the opportunity to speak to thestate about the mission of MSA.

“The entire time he talked about how important the school is andhow valuable it is for the state,” she said.

Hirsch said McRaney’s address will be just the icing on what willbe an exciting year. Besides the unfolding drama enveloping theschool about whether or not it would remain in Brookhaven aftersome state legislators considered relocating it, there were alsosome high points.

One of those is the fact that Valedictorian Jules Wood, whoreceived a scholarship to the University of California at LosAngeles, will sit out a year to work with orphans in Singapore.Meanwhile, National Merit Finalist Parker Reeves received a fullscholarship to Vassar College, a highly selective residentialliberal arts college located in New York.

“We also have a tremendous amount of students staying in state,”Hirsch said. “We’re almost finished tallying, and so far it lookslike our scholarships should be at least a dollar-for-dollar returnon the state’s investments.”

And while there are no tickets available for Saturday’s graduation,Hirsch said school officials are still proud and excited aboutMcRaney’s visit.

“We’re excited about this opportunity for him to come, and we hopethe students will walk away with an inspiration,” she said. “Andthat they can create a pathway of success just like he did, becauselike he said when he was here, they got to start earlier.”