43 arts graduates rise, fly from Mississippi School of the Arts to shine elsewhere

Published 4:30 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

In colorful and creative mortarboards, the 43 graduates of Mississippi School of the Arts’ Class of 2023 proudly claimed their diplomas Friday afternoon.

Executive Director Dr. Suzanne Hirsch told those present that more than three-fourths of the students had maintained honors-level grade point averages, and that for the 95 percent of the graduates who had been notified of scholarships, more than $7.7 million in undergraduate study funding had been offered.

Salutatorian Locklyn Day Wilchynski told the near-capacity crowd that she was honored to be standing on the podium as salutatorian.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“What a long, strange trip it has been,” she said. She turned to the film “A League of Their Own” to offer a quote to sum up the class’ collective experience and the challenges that lay ahead: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great.”

“What better way to live is there than to overcome?” she asked her fellow graduates. “Let yourself be a selective ‘yes’ person … (and) always strive for greatness.”

Valedictorian Katherine Elizabeth Daleke began her address by saying the day marked the beginning of an important chapter in all their lives.

“The road to get here has not been easy for most of us,” said the vocal and visual arts graduate. “I loved every part of this school. I thrived where I thought I would fail. This place has given us the opportunity (to) grow.”

“What now?” she asked. “With the support of our friends and family, we will make some of these next years some of the best parts of our lives … celebrate everything you accomplish.”

The special guest speaker was 2012 vocal arts graduate Briar Jonnee Blakley, a singer, musician and producer who made it to the Top 20 on “The Voice,” holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s from Georgia State, and is a social justice activist for farmers.

“The choices you make shape your path in life,” Blakley told the class in caps and gowns. “You are the only ‘you’, so your journey will be about you and what you choose and what you decide to make it … Decide your direction.”

“What do you want out of life?” she asked. “It begins with the choices you’re making now … you never stop learning.”

Blakley then played the piano as she sang her own rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Hirsch and principal Avery Peagler presented the diplomas, and the vocal graduates sang “Omnia Sol (Let Your Heart be Staid)” prior to the recessional and traditional throwing of mortarboards on the front steps of Mary Lampton Auditorium.

And so the 19th graduating class of MSA completed their journey here to move on to another, the school’s motto having just been sung repeatedly in the Alma Mater — “Now we rise, we fly, we shine.”