Museum Unveils 2018 Keepsake Ornament

Collectible allows Ole Miss faithful to show off the Grove in their holiday decor

The 2018 University Museum holiday keepsake ornament features the Grove, the iconic heart of the Ole Miss campus. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses has unveiled its 18th annual holiday keepsake ornament, celebrating one of the university’s most beautiful spaces and time-honored traditions, the Grove.

“Whether it be memories of football Saturdays, the pride of receiving a degree or just lounging on a sunny afternoon, the Grove holds a special place in the hearts of the entire Ole Miss community,” said Kate Wallace, the museum’s membership, events and communications coordinator. “The UM Museum is honored to celebrate the most beautiful space on one of the most beautiful campuses with this year’s keepsake ornament.”

The 10-acre green space in the center of campus, officially named the Grove in 1935, was first envisioned and implemented by Robert Burwell Fulton, UM chancellor from 1892 to 1906. When the university was building its first library, Ventress Hall, in 1889, Fulton extended the campus east, outside the “inner circle” toward the train depot, and planted trees and shrubs to beautify the campus.

During his time as chancellor, Fulton worked to grow and preserve the lush landscape.

In the 1950s, under the coaching of John Vaught, the football Rebels were a national power, and the Grove began to transform into the tailgate mecca it is today. Students moved their pregame festivities from sorority and fraternity houses to a more centralized location on campus.

Fans parked cars, trucks, buses and RVs under the trees on game days until a massive rainstorm in 1991 forced the university to ban vehicles in the Grove completely.

Today, the Grove is more than just one of the country’s best football tailgates. It hosts year-round community events, including the annual Summer Sunset Concert Series, and is the main venue for the university’s annual Commencement ceremonies.

The Grove commemorative ornament is available for $25 in the Museum Store. Ornaments can be purchased in the store or by phone at 662-915-7073. Shipping within the continental U.S. is $7, and all shipped orders must be placed by Dec. 10 if needed by the holiday. All sales are final.

“Sales of the annual ornament provide much-needed support for the collection and programming we offer throughout the year,” Wallace said. “As always, we are blown away and appreciative of the support we receive from the Rebel faithful.” 

Collectible ornaments from previous years, which are still available, include the Old Skipwith House, Brandt Memory House, Ventress Hall, the Lafayette County Courthouse, Oxford City Hall, the Ole Miss Women’s Basketball Jersey, the Theora Hamblett House, Theora Hamblett’s “Christmas Trees,” the Walk of Champions, Oxford’s Double Decker Bus, the Herakles Neck Amphora and the Barlow’s Planetarium. Previous years’ ornaments are $20 each.

Museum members and Friends of the Museum get a 10 percent discount on all merchandise in the store. To become a member, visit http://museum.olemiss.edu/join-the-museum or stop by the museum.

The UM Museum is at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street. Holiday hours for the museum store are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays.

Museum gallery visiting hours will remain the same, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. To learn more about upcoming events, exhibits or how to support the museum, visit http://museum.olemiss.edu or call 662-915-7073.

Former Band Member’s Gift to Help Construct New Tower

Alumnus Sumner Spradling's leading effort; new facility to bear his name

UM band members and administrators gather to thank alumnus and former band member Sumner Spradling for his lead gift that will help begin construction of a new director’s tower. Pictured are (from left) Matt Louis, of Corinth; Ole Miss band director David Willson; Matt Smith, of Flowood; donors Risa and Sumner Spradling; Wil Stacy, of Southaven; Francena Sekul, of Biloxi; UM development officer Ron Wilson; Richard Springer, of Biloxi; and Max Warren, of Ocean Springs. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – A gift to the University of Mississippi is expected to help take the Ole Miss band program to a new level – literally.

Sumner Spradling, of Greensboro, North Carolina, has given $100,000 to establish the Band Director’s Tower Fund, an account designed to support the construction of a new director’s stand overlooking the practice field of the Pride of the South, the university’s acclaimed marching band.

“I hope the tower will enable the band director and staff to observe the marching band in a safe environment while also helping to move Ole Miss practice facilities into a competitive position,” said Spradling, a Clarksdale native who graduated from UM in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in music education; he later earned a master’s degree in music education from the University of South Carolina.

Because of his lead gift, the tower will bear Spradling’s name.

“Sumner stood beside me in jazz band decades ago and is a great musician, composer and better person,” Ole Miss band director David Willson said. “He contacted me and asked what he could do to help the band. He offered to sponsor it and do more, wanting nothing in return but the good feeling it gave him to serve the institutional band that served him. 

“Now he is the leader in kicking off our field renovations, and we are very thankful for his generosity and leadership in this important campaign.”

Spradling chose to attend Ole Miss after meeting then-band director Luther Snavely.

“I loved the idea of becoming an Ole Miss Rebel and when I visited the campus, Dr. Snavely welcomed me and offered an attractive scholarship,” said Spradling, who played trumpet for the band. “Plus, Ole Miss had – and still has – a reputation for academic excellence and therefore was the best option among the in-state schools.”

During his time at Ole Miss, Spradling focused on earning top grades, often taking in excess of 20 hours a semester while also managing to practice, attend rehearsal, work part time in the music library and become active with a number of campus and honorary organizations, including Phi Mu Alpha, Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Kappa Phi.

“The memories that stand out from my time at Ole Miss are not necessarily extraordinary; they are instead mostly of the simple pleasures,” said Spradling, elaborating, “… enjoying the beauty of the campus while walking to class, the activity and excitement of home games, making lifelong friends, eating pizza at Pasquale’s on the Oxford Square and, believe it or not, classes. I loved them!”

After graduating from Ole Miss and spending six years as a band director in Sumter, South Carolina, and at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, Spradling returned to Mississippi to help with the family business. His father founded Infolab Inc. in Coahoma County, which became one of the nation’s largest regional medical-supply distribution centers, covering 22 states.

Upon his father’s death, Spradling became president, managing the company for three years until 2012, when Infolab merged with a larger company.

He always kept his interest in playing music.

“Through the years, I have continued to actively pursue opportunities in music, serving as interim minister of music in numerous churches and playing in various professional and community ensembles,” he said.

Spradling and his wife, Risa, have two adult sons, Jason and Carter, who live nearby with their families. He enjoys spending time with his grandchildren as well as farming, hunting, golfing and time at the beach.

He remains active in his church and serves as principal trumpet in one of the local symphonies. He also plays in a swing band in Danville, Virginia.

Up to $100,000 more is needed to fully cover the tower’s construction costs, said Ron Wilson, the band’s development officer.

The Sumner Spradling Band Director’s Tower Fund is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send checks with the endowment name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or visit http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.

For information on supporting the Pride of the South, contact Ron Wilson at 662-915-1755 or jrwilso3@olemiss.edu.

Mississippi River Pollution Topic of Next Science Cafe

UM professor speaking on water contamination, solutions at Nov. 13 event

Inoka Widanagamage

OXFORD, Miss. – Protecting the Mississippi River and preserving farming communities in the state is the focus of this month’s Oxford Science Cafe.

The monthly program, organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy, will feature Inoka Widanagamage, UM instructional assistant professor of geology and geological engineering. It is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 13) at Uptown Coffee, 265 North Lamar Blvd.

Widanagamage, a low-temperature geochemist, said she hopes to educate the community on the types of pollution affecting the “Mighty Mississippi.”

She plans to discuss the negative effects that industrial and farming pollution are having on the Mississippi River, one of the most polluted waterways in North America. She will propose solutions to the river’s many environmental problems and discuss steps that can be taken to protect and improve agricultural lands negatively affected by the river.

“(The Oxford Science Cafe) is really an important program where you can reach out to the community and share knowledge,” Widanagamage said. “It will help the community to understand the importance of protecting the Mississippi River.”

The Oxford Science Cafe, launched in October 2011, takes place monthly during the fall and spring semesters and is free to the public. The event features a speaker who gives a short lecture on any topic in the science field, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The topic of pollution and its impact on the health of Mississippians and the state’s economy is one that needs to be examined and discussed by the community, said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and Science Café organizer.

“I think it is very important for people to hear about science, especially science that we do here at the University of Mississippi,” Cavaglia said. “Students in particular may benefit from Science Café lectures to complement what they learn in classes. We discuss topics that are often not covered in class.”

For more information, visit http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe/.

IHL: Chancellor Vitter announces plan to return to faculty; Board thanks Chancellor for his service

The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning President Shane Hooper thanked Chancellor and Distinguished Professor Jeffrey S. Vitter for the many contributions he has made to the University of Mississippi as Dr. Vitter announced his intent to return to the faculty.

“Dr. Vitter has made substantial contributions to the University of Mississippi during his three years as Chancellor,” said Trustee Hooper. “His leadership has moved the university forward in numerous ways and we are grateful for his service.”

Dr. Vitter will serve as Chancellor through January 3, 2019 and continue as a tenured Distinguished Professor in the School of Engineering’s Department of Computer and Information Science.

“It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege to serve as the leader of the University of Mississippi during a time of great progress and accomplishment,” Dr. Vitter said. “Being the flagship university is not just a designation, it is a responsibility — to transform lives, communities, and the world.  I am gratified that we have grown dramatically in impact, stature, and commitment in the past three years.  We are stronger academically, enjoy more support in private giving and research funding, and engage more proactively with the world around us. In addition, we are a more diverse community with a more visible dedication to inclusion and civility.

“There is no more important role on a university campus than as a faculty member,” Dr. Vitter said. “I am excited about the opportunity as a faculty member to advance the university’s research and academic excellence.  Both Sharon and I will remain strong citizens of Rebel Nation.”

A renowned computer scientist and national academic leader, Dr. Vitter brought the University of Mississippi to a greater level of stature and prominence during his tenure with a leadership legacy and dynamic strategic plan that extends across academics, research, service, and athletics.

For the university’s core mission, Dr. Vitter oversaw tremendous academic accomplishments and achievement:

  • Earning the university’s first-ever, prestigious R-1 designation by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, the definitive list for doctoral research universities that places UM among the top 2.5 percent of all colleges and universities in the U.S.;
  • Establishing five new academic centers and institutes, including the Haley Barbour Center for the Study of American Politics, the Center for Multi-Messenger Astrophysics, and the University of Mississippi Institute for the Arts;
  • Launching the Flagship Constellation program, a multidisciplinary approach to inspire and accelerate meaningful solutions to four of the grand challenges facing society;
  • Earning the Flagship Language Program designation for Arabic, an esteemed designation for undergraduate language programs available only at select institutions;
  • Creating new and fast-growing degree programs in biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship, as well as new Masters programs in accountancy & data analytics, taxation & data analytics, and industrial pharmaceutical sciences.

To position the university for sustained success for future generations of students, Dr. Vitter oversaw several key initiatives and expansion of the physical campuses by:

  • Launching Ole Miss International to recruit and attract more international students and enhance the diversity of our student body starting next fall;
  • Overseeing a robust university-wide construction program with $709 million in projects planned or underway;
  • Expanding the Oxford footprint through acquisition of the 15-acre site of the former Baptist Hospital facility and development of the new South Campus Recreation Center and the William Magee Center for Wellness Education; and,
  • Opening of the new medical education building at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and gaining approval for the expansion now underway at Batson Children’s Hospital.

Private giving and external research funding are more important than ever to support a leading university. In Dr. Vitter’s tenure, external fund-raising expanded in a number of ways:

  • Attracting more than $134 million in external research funding in FY2018, representing a 9.3 percent year-over-year increase and reaching its highest level in four years;
  • Generating private donations of nearly $117 million in FY2018, the university’s seventh consecutive year in excess of $100 million and culminating the best three-year period in university history;
  • Growing fund-raising for the Oxford campus almost 8 percent in FY2018;
  • Driving the university endowment to a record high of $715 million; and,
  • Hiring the university’s first-ever Vice Chancellor for Development to strengthen its capabilities in this vital area.

Dr. Vitter launched far-reaching initiatives to enhance interaction and communication, while also addressing important aspects of the university’s history by:

  • Holding more than 200 events in a listening and learning tour during his first 100 days as Chancellor to meet thousands of supporters of the university;
  • Establishing the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context to lead an academically sound, fact-focused process to offer more history and put the past into context at several sites across the campus;
  • Hiring the university’s first-ever Vice Chancellor for Diversity & Community Engagement; and,
  • Promoting dialogue with all UM stakeholders through launching the annual University Town Hall and engaging actively on social media and through the Chancellor’s blog.

To expand the university’s outreach across the state, Dr. Vitter oversaw new initiatives designed to promote economic development and improve community well-being, including:

  • Launching the annual UM Tech Summit, started  in 2016, which brings together government and industry leaders, along with UM faculty and staff, to inspire innovation and accelerate the university’s impact in the technology arena;
  • Initiating the M Partner program of community engagement, in which faculty, staff, students, and community members partner to build sustainable vibrancy in Mississippi communities; and,
  • Championing legislation successfully that now allows the UM Medical Center to operate more efficiently and to engage in joint ventures that support community hospitals and improve access to healthcare.

An Interim Chancellor will be named soon.

# # #

The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

UM Hosts Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Warrior Week

Student veterans, programs on display during visit from Robert L. Wilkie Jr.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert L. Wilkie Jr. speaks with UM public policy students Nov. 2 at the Trent Lott Leadership Institute. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD – The University of Mississippi hosted U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert L. Wilkie Jr. last week during the university’s observance of Warrior Week.

Wilkie, a member of the U.S. Cabinet and an officer in the Air Force Reserve, spent time meeting with members of the Student Veterans Association on campus Friday morning (Nov. 2) at the Veterans Resource Center. There, he heard questions and concerns from student veterans on a variety of topics.

“I was here to tell them that the VA is a place for them as they move on in life,” Wilkie said. “That it is more than just a hospital or a clinic. We have a lot of educational services that ensure, in most cases, that young veterans have the funds to go to school.”

As the student veteran population gets younger – for the first time since the 1970s, more than half of U.S. veterans are under age 65 – Veterans Affairs hopes to cater its services toward younger beneficiaries, Wilkie said.

Wilkie’s visit offered Ole Miss students and leaders an opportunity to showcase the commitment being made to veteran and military personnel. 

Andrew Newby, assistant director for Veteran and Military Services, said he was proud to show Wilkie that Ole Miss is making strides in improving the lives of student veterans across campus.

“His visit shows the student veterans of Ole Miss that, as an institution, we have gained invaluable support from the top down, and it is incredibly important to each and every one of them,” Newby said. “It is wonderful to have Secretary Wilkie on campus because we are working to become the standard for caring for student veterans on a college campus.

“Having the leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs on campus gives us the ability to showcase our progress.”

Wilkie is no stranger to the university – his ties to Ole Miss go back generations. Somerville Hall was named after his great-great-grandmother, Lucy Somerville Howorth. His great-grandfather, Abram Somerville, used to walk him around campus in the 1970s.

“I have seen (Ole Miss) through the eyes of a child, and it is great to be back,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie, who served as counsel and adviser on international security affairs to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, spoke with students at the Lott Leadership Institute on Friday and also visited the Mississippi State Veterans Home in Oxford.

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter touted Wilkie’s appearance on campus during a welcoming event at the Lyceum.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert L. Wilkie Jr. presents a Department of Veterans Affairs coin to Ole Miss Wish Kid Benjamin Clark and his father Caleb Clark Nov. 2 at the Lyceum. Wilkie met the Clarks while visiting Ole Miss for Warrior Week. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“We are very honored to have our Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie here, especially with this week being Warrior Week and Military Appreciation Weekend,” Vitter said.

On Friday night, Wilkie attended the inaugural Veterans Alumni Gala and participated in the pre-game coin toss at Saturday’s Ole Miss football game.

Wilkie said he enjoyed his trip to Oxford and admired the improvements the university has made since he visited as a child.

“The last time I came to a game here, (Johnny) Vaught was still here,” Wilkie said. “It’s changed a lot since then.”

Gospel Choir to Host Fall Concert

Group celebrates 45th anniversary with Saturday show

The UM Gospel Choir performs its annual fall concert Saturday (Nov. 10) in Nutt Auditorium. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Gospel Choir will host its annual fall concert at 7 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 10) in Nutt Auditorium.

Free and open to the public, the concert will feature a number of special guests, including the Coahoma Community College Gospel Choir and the Rev. LaDarrell James.

This year’s concert is particularly notable, as it marks the 45th anniversary of the Gospel Choir on campus, said Jarrius Adams, the choir’s president.

“I am overjoyed to celebrate (the choir’s) 45th year at the University of Mississippi,” Adams said. “I think it symbolizes longevity and the foundation that our founder, Linda Taylor, laid back in 1974.

“I am proud to say that 45 years later, our goal is the same and our mission has never changed.”

Though the public can expect enthusiastic and dynamic performances throughout the entire show, Adams pointed to one moment that he thinks will be particularly poignant.

“The highlight of our concert will be our Aretha Franklin tribute, featuring a guest performance from former UMGC director Zsa’Xhani Davis,” Adams said. “We will be performing a medley of songs in honor of Franklin, one of the most iconic voices in music history. We will pay tribute to her legacy and celebrate her contributions to gospel and soul music.”

For more information about the UM Gospel Choir, visit http://dos.orgsync.com/org/umgc/home or UM Gospel Choir on Facebook or email umgospelchoir@gmail.com.

Alexander Bernstein Discusses Father’s Legacy, ‘Artful Learning’

Son of Leonard Bernstein visited UM for legendary maestro's centennial birthday celebration

Ole Miss students chat with Alexander Bernstein following his lecture in Nutt Auditorium. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Alexander Bernstein’s connection to the legacy of his iconic father, Leonard Bernstein, probably began with a conversation they had in the family tree house when the younger Bernstein was 9 years old.

The son of the world-renowned composer, conductor, pianist, educator and activist visited the University of Mississippi on Tuesday (Nov. 6) as part of a global, two-year series of events celebrating what would have been the patriarch’s centennial birthday.

During his time on the Ole Miss campus, Bernstein gave interviews and a lecture and attended a commemorative concert of his father’s music presented by guest conductor Dennis Shrock, several soloists, the Bernstein Festival Orchestra and the UM Chorus, directed by Donald Trott.

“I remember my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, ‘a teacher,'” Bernstein said. “He’d already subtly let me and my sisters know he wanted one of us to pursue the same musical path he had.”

Bernstein and his siblings all grew up seeing and hearing their father make connections between the arts and other academic disciplines.

Leonard Bernstein’s practices – which later officially became known as ‘artful learning,’ an interdisciplinary educational model that uses fine arts to strengthen learning in all academic areas – in the family home were inconsistent with traditional educational models used in the preparatory schools the Bernstein children attended.

“I certainly feel my learning life at home was different from my learning at the private schools I attended,” Alexander Bernstein said. “As a result, I was a terrible student. Just coasting along, never particularly interested in any particular subject.”

Years passed before Leonard Bernstein’s passionate thirst for knowledge and desire to share it with others was fully embraced by his son.

“I’d tried and failed at becoming an actor,” Alexander Bernstein said. “While earning my master’s degree at Harvard, I had an opportunity to substitute teach in one of the local schools. Through that experience, I became passionate about teaching.

“The connections between the arts and other disciplines my father spoke of finally began to make sense to me.”

When Leonard Bernstein received a grant to establish his foundation, the son helped launch the first Artful Learning model in the Nashville school system in the late 1980s. Reception to the new educational approach was initially far from enthusiastic.

“They told me I should have been carrying on my father’s musical legacy instead and fighting for more funding for music education instructors,” Alexander Bernstein said. “Instead, there I was – trying to get all teachers to incorporate the arts into their subject areas.”

Over time, schools using the model began to spread across the country, changing the landscape of teaching and learning. With his son serving as president of Artful Learning, Leonard Bernstein’s vision to use music and the other visual and performing arts as a means of instilling a lifelong love of learning in students is being fulfilled.

“Artful Learning creates an environment where students, parents and the community start to realize from the ground up how important the arts are,” Alexander Bernstein said. “Rather than teachers and performers telling them these things are important, they see for themselves that they are important to life. They matter.”

Alexander Bernstein shares memories of his famous father, Leonard Bernstein, during a lecture commemorating what would have been the music legend’s 100th birthday. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The model begins with all teachers looking at the subject content that they are required by the state to teach. Together, they choose a concept and a significant question. The teachers then choose a masterwork to model their learning journey.

“In each classroom, the students go through the Artful Learning model process,” Bernstein said. “It includes four parts: experience, inquire, create and reflect.”

The results are exciting, he said.

“Data demonstrates that in every school where Artful Learning is used, the scores are going up,” he said. “Artful Learning helps kids acquire the skills needed to be the curious, focused, problem-solving adults we’ll need to realize the beautiful world that Leonard Bernstein envisioned for us all.”

Trott, who met Alexander Bernstein in 1992, just two years after his famous father died, said the visit was the highlight of the university’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

“Alex’s presence elevated the entire performance and overall experience, and we were all captivated by his unique insight and perspective on the music his father had composed that we were about to perform,” Trott said. “I was so appreciative of him taking the time from what is an extremely busy schedule to be with us. He is a very gracious person.”

Bernstein said he firmly believes that Artful Learning schools produce better human beings.

“By making connections between the arts and real life with other students, teachers, parents and the community, such collaborations yield academic improvement and critical thinking, and growth in compassion, understanding and civility,” Bernstein said.

“My father always said, ‘The best way to know a thing is in the context of another discipline.’ I know that he would be gratified to see so many students and teachers bursting with creative energy in their classrooms.”

For more information about Artful Learning, visit https://leonardbernstein.com/artful-learning.

Ole Miss Wish Granted to Cancer Survivor

Benjamin Clark honored with Disney trip, memorable weekend thanks to Student Veterans Association

Ole Miss Wish Kid Benjamin Clark celebrates with his family when he hears that he is going to Disney World courtesy of the nonprofit Walkers for Warriors and the Student Veterans Association. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD – The crowd of nearly 60,000 roared Saturday (Nov. 3) as Darth Vader led stormtroopers out of the northwest tunnel onto Hollingsworth Field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Standing alongside his family, 13-year-old Benjamin Clark, sporting an Ole Miss cap and vest, threw up his hands and cheered as the legendary Star Wars character approached with a signed football from Rebel coach Matt Luke.

On the video board, Luke, joined by Andrew Newby, assistant director of the University of Mississippi’s Office of Veteran and Military Services, told Clark that he and his family were receiving an all-expenses-paid, five-day trip to Disney World, courtesy of the nonprofit Walkers for Warriors.

After hearing this, Clark – who is in remission after being diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in late 2015 – grinned, tossed his football into the air, caught it coolly and threw up a “Fins Up” sign to the thousands of cheering fans.

It was the culmination of a weekend’s worth of events honoring the Yazoo City native, who was this fall’s Ole Miss Wish Kid.

Benjamin’s trip to Oxford – which featured leading the team through the Walk of Champions, touring athletics facilities and firing the ROTC cannon – was more than just a Rebel fan’s perfect Saturday morning. On Friday, Benjamin was proclaimed the university’s first “Kid President” and signed a proclamation ordering all future Ole Miss Wish Kids serve in the same role.

Benjamin said he was honored to be able to represent future children who are battling hardships.

“Being kid president was a little pressuring at first, but then it was super exciting,” Benjamin said. “It makes me feel great, and I want other kids to come and have a good time like I did.”

Andrew Newby (left center), assistant director for Veteran and Military Services, signs a proclamation declaring Ole Miss Wish Kid Benjamin Clark as ‘Kid President’ of the University of Mississippi on Friday (Nov. 2) as Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter looks on at the Lyceum. The proclamation states that all future Ole Miss Wish recipients will also serve as ‘Kid President.’ Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Ole Miss Wish is a philanthropic effort of the Ole Miss Student Veterans Association. The program works with military families to give children the Ole Miss experience.

Benjamin’s father, U.S. Air Force Maj. Caleb Clark, is a chaplain with the Mississippi Air National Guard’s 172nd Airlift Wing.

Benjamin smiled constantly throughout the whirlwind of activities, despite the occasional fatigue and other side effects from his ongoing battle with leukemia.

“He is a trooper,” his mother, Teri Clark, said. “Ninety-five percent of the time, he is smiling and doesn’t let it get him down. He’s more concerned about other people and making sure everyone else is comfortable.

“He’ll get down and talk to smaller kids, younger children. He gets down on their level and talks with them and encourages them. He’ll say, ‘Look at me; I can take it.'”

Benjamin’s illness has forced him to deal with things most other teenagers do not have to think about. It’s his ability to deal with these hardships that attracted Newby and the Student Veterans Association to Benjamin and made him an easy choice for Ole Miss Wish.

“The thing I want Benjamin to take away from this weekend is that he is such a powerful example of what it means to go through hard things well,” Newby said. “His attitude is absolutely inspiring, because he doesn’t let on that he’s having a hard time.

“He is such a bright soul, and giving him this experience has been a joy for all of us.” 

Benjamin met Jordan Ta’amu on Friday during his tour of athletics facilities and tossed a football with the Rebel quarterback during pre-game warmups. After leading the team through the Grove along the Walk of Champions, an experience he called “overwhelming,” Benjamin greeted each player and coach as they came onto the field.

“(Coach Luke) told me I was going to have a fun day, and said I was the team’s good luck charm,” he said.

Benjamin’s love of Ole Miss stems heavily from his love of watching Rebel football with his father, and he said getting to play a major role in the game-day experience Saturday was special.

Newby said Benjamin’s interaction with Ta’amu, who Benjamin called “very kind,” was a highlight of the weekend.

“Watching the two of them just enjoy the morning together is something I’ll remember for a long time,” Newby said. “Jordan and Benjamin just talked about life. There was no rush, there was no worry.

“It was beautiful, and it really made his experience that much greater because it showed him that he matters.”

Ole Miss Wish Kid Benjamin Clark high-fives Tony the Landshark on Saturday (Nov. 3) after receiving news that he and his family were given an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Benjamin is a cancer survivor and was honored on campus by the Student Veterans Association. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

After firing the ROTC cannon when the Rebels took the field, Benjamin was given the shell casing, which he plans to put on his desk at home as a keepsake of his Ole Miss Wish experience.

A patient at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital at the UM Medical Center, Benjamin is inspired by his situation to help others when he gets older.

“The past few years, the nurses in the hospital have taken care of me and made this trial a lot easier to bear,” he said. “Because of that, I want to be a pediatric nurse to do all those things they’ve done for me.”

Walkers for Warriors co-founder Nicholas Roylance joined the Clarks on the sidelines Saturday to celebrate their trip. Like Roylance, Benjamin is a big Star Wars fan, and the costumes and pageantry of the presentation fit the Walkers for Warriors style.

The nonprofit generates money by attending cosplay conventions for “The Walking Dead.” Walkers for Warriors raised more than $7,500 to pay for flights, hotel, resort passes, food vouchers and everything else that goes along with a Disney World trip.

“I’m elated (to give Benjamin this opportunity),” Roylance said. “I just wanted to give the kid a hug and tell him to have a good time.”

More than $1,200 in spending money was raised for Benjamin by the O.D. Smith Masonic Lodge No. 33, of Oxford, and Belk Ford.

“This opportunity with Ole Miss Wish and Veteran and Military Services at Ole Miss was the perfect chance to make a lasting impact in a young man’s life,” said Ray Dees, the lodge’s junior warden. “This family has already experienced so much, and as a military family they already give of themselves, so the Masons wanted to give them a wonderful experience, and this was a great chance to do just that.”

Caleb Clark said it was an honor for his family to experience all it did over the weekend, but he also was proud to see the way the university recognized current and former student veterans during Warrior Week.

“I think it’s vitally important to emphasize that military and education aren’t distinct from one another,” Clark said. “I always like to see a strong connection between education and the military.

“It’s important for people to see (service members) as living, breathing, thinking, problem-solvers. So many of our folks on staff at 172nd are Ole Miss alums.”

In mid-April, Benjamin will mark a major milestone in his cancer treatment as he gathers with family and friends to celebrate the end of chemotherapy. Soon after, on April 28, he and his family plan to pack their bags for Orlando to visit Disney World.

Ole Miss Wish Kid Benjamin Clark (center) is joined by his family on campus for a weekend of festivities. Benjamin celebrated his Ole Miss Wish with (from left) his sister, Carolyn Grace; father, Maj. Caleb Clark; brother, Joshua; and mother, Teri. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“We decided we were going to Toy Story Land first,” Benjamin said.

“We’ll be done with chemo and then going on this trip,” Teri Clark said. “It’s going to be a whole big ‘No Mo Chemo’ party.”

Teri Clark said she was thrilled to see her son, and the rest of her family, be treated so kindly and given gifts they will remember for a lifetime.

“Throughout Benjamin’s whole cancer journey, people are like, ‘I don’t know how you do what you do,'” she said. “But you just do what you have to do. We’re just dealing with the hand that we’ve been dealt. We don’t do anything extraordinary.

“And it’s really overwhelming and humbling to be given the blessing that Ole Miss gave us.”

Community Invited to Public Archaeology Day at Rowan Oak

UM students to discuss artifacts found at Faulkner's home at Nov. 10 event

UM staff members and students participate in the 2016 Public Archaeology Day at Rowan Oak. Photo by Marlee Crawford/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi archaeology students will get a chance to share their field work with the community when they host a Public Archaeology Day on Saturday (Nov. 10) at Rowan Oak.

Free and open to all ages, the Public Archaeology Day event is set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Rowan Oak, home of American literary giant William Faulkner, is off Old Taylor Road in Oxford. Visitors can expect to see some of the artifacts the class has discovered on the property, as well as learn about the different methods for surveys and shovel tests used by Ole Miss archaeologists.

Tony Boudreaux, director of the Center for Archaeological Research, teaches the anthropology class hosting this event.

“The goal of this class is to teach students how to present archaeology to nonarchaeologists,” Boudreaux said. “Part of what we’re going to be doing out at Rowan Oak is giving students the opportunity to practice this with interested members of the general public.”

The class has been working at Rowan Oak to learn more about the pre-Civil War period, Boudreaux said. Students in the class say this work is particularly meaningful because most existing information regarding Rowan Oak pertains only to when Faulkner owned the home and property.

“Many aspects of archaeology are not pretty, but they are meaningful,” said Arianna Kitchens, a sophomore anthropology major from Collins. Also a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, she plans to use the work at Rowan Oak for her honors thesis.

“The archaeology of slavery is most certainly one of these aspects. Our aim is to uncover the daily activities of the slaves who certainly had a great impact on the property as well as in the community of Oxford.”

Faulkner bought the home and property in the 1930s, but this land was initially settled in the mid-1800s by a slaveholder named Robert Sheegog.

“We hope to build on the already existing narrative of life at Rowan Oak to include the story of Robert Sheegog and his slaves,” Kitchens said.

Students and teachers alike are excited for the opportunity this event presents.

“The Public Archaeology Day is a great opportunity to share our research in an educational format,” said Hannah Rhodes, a master’s student in anthropology from Knoxville, Tennessee, who is specializing in archaeology.

“The public can come learn not only about the archaeological methods used at the property, but also gain a more holistic understanding of the property’s positioning within the history of the city of Oxford. Our students look forward to discussing these topics with the public.”

Regional Bank Gives Business Students a Behind-the-Scenes Look

Trustmark hosted students from five Mississippi universities for a day of learning

Brooke Meeks, talent acquisition officer for Trustmark National Bank, speaks to a group of business students from around the state at Trustmark’s inaugural ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ event at its headquarters in Jackson. Photo by Kena Smith

JACKSON, Miss. – University of Mississippi business students gained insights into how banks make money, ensure positive customer experiences and connect with local communities, among other topics, at an inaugural “Behind-the-Scenes” experience hosted by Trustmark National Bank.

The event, held Nov. 2 at Trustmark’s Jackson headquarters, included students from five universities: UM, Alcorn State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. The students were business majors with a minimum GPA of 2.5. 

“The goal of Trustmark corporate was to partner with universities to give students interested in corporate finance, banking and wealth management the opportunity to learn more about these roles in a corporate bank setting,” said Amy Jo Carpenter, career planning specialist at the Ole Miss School of Business Administration. “I believe that good information helps make good decisions, and this type of event offers firsthand knowledge about fields you cannot learn in the classroom.”

The event was conceived by Rita Floyd, director of organizational development for Trustmark, to better educate business students on how financial services companies operate and the various types of employment opportunities available after graduation.

“I recruit for our management training program and corporate internship program, and we have seen a decline in interest over the years,” Floyd said. “So I felt we needed this opportunity to showcase what we have to offer.”

The students, staff, and faculty received a glimpse of Trustmark’s culture, financial operations, core values and vision. The bank’s size and strength demonstrates a regional powerhouse – approaching $14 billion in total assets – with a broad scope of financial services offered and range of career options.

The day included speakers and panelists representing various lines within the banking industry, such as general banking, insurance, wealth management, mortgage, risk management and lending. Trustmark CEO Jerry Host joined the students for lunch.

UM business students take part in the inaugural Trustmark National Bank ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ event in Jackson. Participating students include (from left) Jeremiah Morgan, Winn Medlock, Amy Jo Carpenter, Aldyn Ewing, Meg Barnes, Kaylei Burcham, Jenny Nolan, Jared Tubertini and Wesley Dickens. Photo by Kena Smith

“Hearing personal experiences of associates and executives from Trustmark was extremely valuable,” said Jared Tubertini, a junior banking and finance major from Jackson. “I learned there are many facets of Trustmark that help the company perform at a high level.”

The industry experts who presented, all Trustmark associates, were Joe Gibbs, Brian Johnson, Heath Jordan, Brooke Meeks, Melanie Morgan, Chase Ogden, Jim Outlaw, Tom Owens, LaRoy Savage and Breck Tyler.

“In this eye-opening and educational experience, I learned that Trustmark is not just a bank, but a financial institution that provides many different services for its clients,” said Aldyn Ewing, a sophomore management major from Covington, Louisiana. “I can see myself working for this company because of the multiple opportunities for advancement and growth that they offer.”

“The Trustmark event was a great opportunity to pair classroom and professional knowledge,” said Jeremiah Morgan, a junior from Jackson majoring in management information systems and finance. “We learned about the application of solutions in business and how to effectively communicate the outcomes.”

Celebrating its 129th anniversary, Trustmark continues to expand with locations in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

“Based on the comments from students as they were leaving, I would say (the event) was a success and something that we will host again,” Floyd said. “We might even possibly try to do this twice a year: once in the fall and once in the spring.”