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Mississippi Scholars’ challenge: ‘Do something great’

Lincoln County’s Mississippi Scholars — all 169 of them — walked away with more than $115,000 in scholarship money Sunday to help them pursue their dreams.

The exact amount was $118,400, which came from colleges and businesses, and is part of the recognition to the graduating seniors for years of hard work and dedication.

Students from Brookhaven High School, Brookhaven Academy, Mississippi School of the Arts, Bogue Chitto Attendance Center, Enterprise Attendance Center, Loyd Star Attendance Center and West Lincoln Attendance Center were honored during an hour-long ceremony at Easthaven Baptist Church, which was followed by a reception for the honorees, their families and scholarship sponsors.

Some of the students were part of the Mississippi Scholars Tech Master program, which honors students who not only completed the rigorous academic regime but added career-tech classes as well. More than 70 percent of the jobs in Mississippi are skilled-labor positions, said volunteer Kenny Goza.

Since 2005, when Goza and Kay Burton with the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce started the program here, more than 1,500 students have been recognized and earned more than $1.5 million in scholarships.

Mississippi Scholars’ goal is to build up students starting in the eighth grade and give them tools and encouragement that will take them on to bigger and better things after high school.

In the program, administered statewide by the Mississippi Economic Council and locally by Chamber, students are encouraged to take more challenging courses that will better prepare them for the future. Students must take a rigorous course of study, attend class regularly, score well on the ACT and do community service to be designated as Mississippi Scholars.

The program gets students career ready, so that they transition easily from high school graduation to a college or technical school because of the advanced curriculum they’ve already mastered. But it’s not just about studies.

“Our motto is, ‘We’re not helping you look for a job.’ We want you to find a career, something that you’re passionate about, something that you’re happy to be doing,” Goza said.

Jeff Richardson, executive director of the KDMC Foundation and a member of the Chamber board of directors, encouraged students to settle into a career in Lincoln County.

“We hope that whatever you do with your talent, whatever you learn over the next few years you bring it back to Lincoln County and help our area and continue to make this what I consider the best place to live,” he said.

Even while planning the ceremony for the 169 Mississippi Scholars who are graduating in May, volunteers were visiting schools to talk to students about the program. Presentations were made to more than 1,900 students in eighth- through 11th grade, Goza said.

The program requires students complete 40 hours of community service during four years of high school. That forces students to be aware of service opportunities in communities. That requirement jumps to 80 hours in four years for the Class of 2022 and after, Goza said.

The minimum ACT score will increase from 18 to 19 in 2020 as well, he said.

The attendance requirement is also important — students must keep at least a 95 percent attendance throughout high school. Establishing a habit of showing up will prepare students for life after high school, he said.

In 2006, 28 students graduated in the Mississippi Scholars program. Last year, 173 graduates received the Mississippi Scholars program and Tech Master designation. All eligible graduates were awarded a scholarship at a recognition event.

Students write an essay on what it means to be a Mississippi Scholar. A committee looks at the essays, community service and where students are going after high school and matches them with scholarships from the colleges and private money available.

“For about the fourth or fifth year, every one of our students who have done what they’re supposed to do, we give them a scholarship,” Goza said.

Many of those scholarships came from the 52 businesses that made donations to the program.

“That is why it’s so important that you shop at home, spend money in Lincoln County because they’re giving it back,” Goza said. “Just remember that. I looked today and Amazon has not given us anything. I appreciate what our local businesses do.”

Claire Posey, a Loyd Star graduating senior, intends to use her scholarship for books and supplies if she doesn’t apply it toward tuition. She plans to attend either Copiah-Lincoln Community College or Southwest Community College, before embarking on a career in radiology or nuclear medicine.

She appreciates that part of the requirement of becoming a Mississippi Scholar includes community service.

She worked with 4-H and the FFA, helping younger children participate in agricultural events.

She’s encouraged that the program teaches students to be active in their community.

“If they’re going to help you out, you should help them out,” she said.

Goza challenged students to take the skills they’ve developed in their four years of high school and apply it to life.

“My goal for you is you do something great,” he said. “You make life great by serving others, giving of yourself, having integrity, having influence, having a work ethic, having passion about something. As you leave here today, as you go to college, as you get in a career, make your next step be the right step. Do what’s right and you’ll be honored for that in life.”