Congratulations, SMBHC Class of 2019!
The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Commissioning took place at the Ford Center on Friday, May 10, 2019. Before a packed house, Jessica Tran welcomed everyone, Jarvis Benson delivered the address, and Jacob Ferguson provided the charge. Ellie Smith served as Class Marshal. Yasmeen Abdo was awarded the Dean’s Prize for earning 70 honors hours–the highest amount in her class, and tied for the second-highest amount in the Honors College’s 22-year history! For over forty pictures of the afternoon’s ceremony, please visit our Facebook page.
Jessica Tran’s Welcome
Welcome faculty, students, and most importantly those who survived the three ticket hunger games. Y’all are the chosen ones, so today, we also celebrate you.
Let me take a second to note how we are all wearing the same thing. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but one of us is going to have to change & it’s not going to be me. It took a lot of time picking this out.
So… I was on goodreads.com last night, trying to find some inspirational quote from a book I pretended to read. After finding absolutely nothing tear jerking, I just ended up procrastinating on Instagram. I clicked through what seemed like masses of goodbye posts from roommates, best friends, and even professors. But for some reason, this just doesn’t seem like a goodbye to me. We see things as having beginnings and ends, but this doesn’t feel like an end nor a beginning.
What it feels like is we are sitting exactly in the place between where it’s completely still and where everything else is falling apart. And Life keeps nudging us, whispering isn’t it perfect? And that’s something to celebrate.
I found that quote on @BrianAndreas’s Instagram. And it just made me think about what this stillness was. Stillness is everything you have done. All your accomplishments, failures, and learning moments. These are the things that those masses of Instagram stories reminisce on. Stillness is our comfort zones, but when we start to fall apart, that’s when we learn to grow. These are the memories that anchor you for the unknown – even when everything else feels like it’s falling apart.
So I leave you with one final thought – this is us, and welcome to it.
Jarvis Benson’s Address
The question that we were asked this year was: What should we remember? I have thought about this for a while now, but my personal answer was given to me this summer. Then I was working with the North Mississippi VISTA Project in New Albany, MS. For a few weeks, I was tasked with helping sweep, mop, and wax the floors of the middle school. To my knowledge, waxing is not a part of the curriculum at the honors college; and, let me tell you, in 95 degree weather, it is hard. But, I loved going. While there, I met a woman that would impact me in ways I could not have imagined. Brenda Marshall is a dedicated New Albany community member. Above all, her behind-the-scenes work keeps the middle school functioning. One day, while teaching me to properly scrape floors, she asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. I let spill the bougie rehearsed rhetoric on international development focused on Latin American diplomacy and peacemaking. When I finished lying to both her and myself, she said, “that all sounds fine…but don’t forget about us.” Don’t forget about us. Remember us.
“What should we remember” is a question that has resonated repeatedly during our time at the University of Mississippi. What should we remember from our painful, segregated past that allows us to move forward? As the institution tried to reckon with answering this, students had our own conversations. In the University Circle or in front of the Union, these were usually bold, statements that make a point that makes us look right and therefore we are going to say it to look good while being right. In these spaces, it’s easy to forget the experience and existence of anyone else.
Within the honors college community, though, these conversations were different. We have been given a valuable lesson on conversation. Productive conversations on who are we to become and how do we get there. The Honors College charges us to be citizen scholars. And we have been just that. Honors students have been at the forefront of major campus progress. This year, as neo-confederates marched onto campus, honors students, student leaders, worked closely with administration to ensure student safety. As the student-led resolution to relocate the Confederate statue was in the works, honors students were there to guide these tough decisions.
But as we transition into the real world we must remain committed and steadfast to the public good. Within the spatial confines of this campus, we have seen only a glimpse of the complexities that this world offers. This is the starting point off a race that we have been incredibly trained for.
Over the past 4 years, we have seen that change is possible. However, we owe a debt to the number of those who came before me (and their descendants). Audre Lorde: “I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.” The changes that we have seen on campus over the past 4 years have not been walks through the rain. Not rough patches that the university must work through. They are accumulations of efforts on the backs of generations of citizens who saw it as their duty to speak their truth despite the pain. These people did not tout their being right with no regard. They made bold choices to have tough conversations that force us to remember. So to end, I present to you a challenge. Speak out despite the pain. Remember despite the pain. Through these efforts people will be heard. They will be seen. You all will be the leaders of whatever world we move into. Don’t forget about us.
It has been a great honor to represent the Honors Class of 2019. These 4 years with y’all have been a great privilege. I will remember it always. Thank you.
Jacob Ferguson’s Charge
Honors College class of 2019, I want you think about the first time you met DSG or heard him speak. I remember listening to him talk at freshman orientation just a few days after I graduated high school. He was talking about a Ken Burns documentary, and I didn’t know who Ken Burns was or what exactly he’d documented, but I did know that DSG seemed wildly interested and engaged in what Ken Burns had to say. I remember thinking that I might not be smart enough to have a conversation with DSG, or even to thrive in the Honors College.
I remember listening to DSG freshman year during welcome week and at the first convocation we attended. He spoke with such passion and urgency about the issues of the day, the challenges of tomorrow, and things that felt so far over my head and out of my reach. And it wasn’t just DSG—Dr. Samonds and Dr. Young and all of the older students I met had big questions. They wanted to have big conversations. They made big plans and then executed them.
Our freshman year as the state flag came down in front of the Lyceum and we approached the 2016 election, DSG spoke about the state of the Republic and our responsibilities and roles within it. He said it was our job to make the Republic as good and as just as possible. Politics got more complicated on and off campus. Local, national, and international discourse seemed to be approaching a series of inflection points. And as those conversations and events unfolded, I began to truly understand what DSG meant when he said that we were both citizens and scholars in a difficult world. I began to understand what we were doing here at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
Class of 2019, I can think of no better charge than this: remember what it means to engage with people and issues and the world at large. Remember to investigate everything, to vocalize your beliefs, and to pursue your passions with diligence and creativity. Remember to ask big questions. Remember to have big conversations. Remember to make big plans, and then follow through with them—and be patient and persistent if the plans don’t work the first go round. Remember to be kind. Remember to be compassionate when you’re making decisions that will effect great change. And lastly, remember to love—your friends, strangers, people just like you, people nothing like you, and especially yourself. Thank you.