Jones College sophomores earn Gold Key Awards

ELLISVILLE– During graduation practice, six Jones College sophomores were awarded Leadership, Athletic and Merit Gold Key Awards. These students were voted on by their peers for this special recognition.

The Merit Gold Key recipients are Faith Houston of Laurel and Matthew Harrison of Laurel. Houston was also chosen by her peers to receive the Leadership Gold Key honor. Garrett Bradshaw of Raleigh was also selected for the Leadership Gold Key award. Cheerleader, Chloe Rigdon of Newton, and baseball player Kameron Partridge from Collinsville, earned the Athletic Gold Key Award.

Jones College sophomores eligible to receive the Academic Gold Key honor because of their 4.0 GPA prior to final exams will be recognized over the summer for their academic achievements.

Jones College holds 1st evening graduation ceremony outdoors

ELLISVILLE – Jones College’s 93rd Commencement Ceremony was held outdoors at 8 p.m. for the first time in the college’s history. The COVID-19 virus led to modifying a lot of events and activities over the last year. Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith shared with the crowd, including the approximate 720 graduates participating in the ceremony, that this graduation ceremony marked the first time some people have been back on campus since March 2020. Smith also “confessed” in his Presidential Message in the Commencement Program, that he didn’t understand the meaning of the words unprecedented, incomparable and unpredictable until he witnessed this season of hardship the college community experienced together.

“‘During my time of leadership, I have never seen the challenges, trials and circumstances that you graduates have faced in these past twelve months…. I have full confidence that the Jones College graduates of 2020 and 2021 have been rewarded with the spirit of perseverance, an invaluable garland that will forevermore be placed around your neck….”’said Smith.

Commencement speaker, retired U.S. Army Major General, Byron Bagby who is the managing partner of BMB Solutions, LLC, an independent consulting firm offering executive leadership development, coaching, and strategy development also commended the graduates. As a first-generation college graduate, Bagby said he understands the challenges that the 35 percent of Jones College students faced being the first in their families to go to college. He also challenged the audience to continue to make their family and friends proud by fulfilling three basic elements of life.

“Be a mentor. Be yourself and make a difference in the world. At this stage in your life, each one of you has a collection of experiences that are and will be beneficial to other people who have the same profession as you…. Look for opportunities to connect with other people. Reach out to them frequently. Share your lessons learned and life experiences,” said Bagby. “Thank you for what you will do for our world, our nation and for what you will do for your communities.”

About 70 of the Jones College graduates from the class of 2020 decided to participate in this year’s ceremony after last year’s graduation was canceled because of the Pandemic. Bay Springs 2020 graduates and twins, Jada and Jazmin King said they were eager to return to campus.

“My sister and I were very involved at Jones and we were very successful during our two years here,” said Jazmin, the 2019 Homecoming Queen and Mississippi Rural Physician Scholarship Program recipient. “We wanted to return to Jones for some closure and to say our goodbyes to our friends, faculty members and administrators who were so helpful to us over our two years here,” Jada added, who was voted Miss Jones College 2020 and a Mississippi Rural Physician Scholarship Program recipient.

Likewise, 2021 graduate and Student Government Association President, Dariyel Johnson said she was glad the Class of 2020 was invited to partake in graduation ceremonies.

“It hit me this week how many friends I’ve made here at Jones College and everything I’ve been able to accomplish as Freshman Class President and SGA President. Having the 2020 grads here, also gives me the chance to say goodbye to them too, as we leave this special place, together,” said Johnson, who also earned the title of Jones College Most Beautiful 2020. Johnson plans to continue her broadcast communication degree at the University of Mississippi and vie for the title of Miss Mississippi next month.

Oak Grove’s Slade Smith and Slade Hicks of Laurel, have Jones College to thank for their friendship. The two met early in their freshman year while playing intramural frisbee, because they share the same name.

“Ironically, our dads went to Laurel High School together,” said Slade Smith. “Jones gave me the room to grow because I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college to start my bio-chemistry degree. It’s going to be hard to leave this place.”

Slade Hicks who is majoring in electrical engineering added, “I’m glad we’ll get to still hang out at Mississippi State. We both are adventurous and enjoy playing intramural sports. We were on a lot of winning teams at Jones.”

The evening commencement ceremony on the lawn of Jones Hall provided a dynamic atmosphere to showcase the Jones Onstage and Concert Choir students and a firework show finale. Jones graduates received either, an Associate in Arts degree, Associate in Applied Science degree, a Technical Certificate, or a Career Certificate.

Jones College holds special graduation ceremony for Wilicia McClendon; “Girl with grit”

ELLISVILLE – When Wilicia McClendon’s parents, Wilbur and Alicia learned about the changes to Jones College’s Commencement Ceremony, they were disappointed their daughter would miss graduation once again. The ceremony was held two weeks later than usual and outdoors for the first time on, Saturday, May 22, at 8 p.m. Wilicia missed her 2020 graduation because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the college to cancel the commencement ceremony. This year, Wilicia could not attend because of her disabilities and the family would be out of the country.

“We learned when Wilicia was one year old, she was profoundly deaf. She now has cochlear implants that help her hear some, but she reads lips very well. When she was 10 years old, we discovered she also had problems with her eyesight. She has night blindness and peripheral vision problems because of a condition called ‘R P’ or Retinitis pigmentosa. There was no way we could attend an outdoor evening ceremony because she is completely blind at night,” said Alicia McClendon.

The McClendon family has dealt with many challenges and disappointments over the years. The family relocated to Laurel from New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina. The Laurel School District’s support of Wilicia turned out to be a blessing and the reason why the family stayed in Laurel. Wilicia graduated from Laurel High School in 2018. Meanwhile, her father earned an associate of arts degree in Criminal Justice from Jones College in 2013, and her brother Joshua attended Jones College in 2015 and 2016, before transferring to USM. Wilicia was excited to follow in their path.

“Wilicia has made the President’s List Honor Roll at Jones just about every semester,” said her mother. “When the college switched to online classes because of the pandemic, Wilicia adapted. She pushes herself to be independent and to not let her disabilities define her.”

Upon hearing about Wilicia and her story, Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith decided to hold a special graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 25, to honor the “girl with grit.”

“She’s very persistent in her studies and she is very passionate about helping children. Wilicia has more grit in her pinky than most people do collectively in their lives and that’s a testament of her will and focus, and her drive to succeed,” said Smith said to an auditorium of administrators, staff and faculty who came back to campus on their off week.

Wilicia McClendon received diplomas for the Associate in Applied Science degree in Early Childhood Education Technology she earned in 2020, and the Associate of Arts degree she completed this year during a special graduation ceremony at Jones College.

“I am so thankful to everyone who did this for me. It feels so good to graduate,” said Wilicia. “I am famous now!” she chuckled.

Her parents said they were so grateful to Dr. Smith and everyone at Jones for holding the special graduation ceremony that they didn’t get really emotional until they returned home.

“For Jones College and Dr. Smith to do this is overwhelming. Jones really does live out its motto, ‘Inspiring Greatness.’ To see how far Jones was willing to go to make sure students like my daughter are successful has been amazing,” said Wilbur McClendon. “It was a big step for Wilicia to come to Jones College, but she has become more independent and determined to live out her dream.”

Wilicia’s dream includes continuing her education at the University of Southern Mississippi and to open a daycare to help children with hearing and sight impairments like her.

Laurel School District and Jones College offer “Middle College”

ELLISVILLE – When the Mississippi Department of Education granted the Laurel School District the School of Innovation Designation in April, it opened new doors of opportunity for qualifying Laurel High School juniors with the introduction of “Middle College.”

“The Middle College Program is an excellent opportunity for our students to get a jumpstart to earning an advanced degree or a career technical education. We are thankful to Jones College’s administration for their willingness to see this program to fruition,” said Laurel School District Superintendent, Dr. Toy Watts.

Beginning in August, qualifying Laurel HS students with an ACT composite score of 19, including a 19 on the Math section and a 17 in the English section, who also have a 3.25 GPA may begin working on an Associate of Arts degree from Jones College while also earning their high school diploma. The innovative, Middle College program is one of the programs the Laurel School District was approved to offer as a School of Innovation Designation by the MDE.

“I was blessed to experience the Dual Enrollment program through Jones College while at Laurel High School.  It helped me tremendously and my peers prepare for college and get some of our general courses and electives out of the way,” said Laurel High School 2021 Valedictorian, Jaymar Jackson, II. “This additional program is not only going to better our education system, but it will also change the lives of our students and community. Thank you for expanding the opportunities for the Tornado Family and allowing us to become a part of the Bobcat Nation.”

Jackson completed 30-college credit hours while at Laurel High School. Future Middle College students will have the opportunity to earn twice that many credits upon completion of their Associate of Arts degree in General Studies. Additionally, these students will have no out-of-pocket expenses. Local and federal funds cover the Middle College student’s tuition, fees, books and transportation.

“Our students will have the same opportunities as any other student within the county, state and nation. We are grateful to the research and curriculum unit, or RCU at Mississippi State University, who support the implementation of the MDE’s innovative school initiatives. A special thank you goes to the Jones County Supervisors for their financial support of the Middle College students as they pursue their associate degrees. Many of these students will be first-generation college attendees and their generosity will ease any financial hardship associated with college expenses,” said Laurel High School Principal, Dr. Michael Eubanks.

More than a year ago, the process began to provide what Eubanks calls, the most innovative partnership the district and Jones College have ever embarked on together. It also marks the first high school to offer its students this unique opportunity in the Jones College eight-county district. Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith said he is excited to have the opportunity to work with Laurel School District which is one of only 10 model school districts in the state designated as a School of Innovation.

“The Middle College program is a great model that can be implemented on a grander scale if we do this right. We can set a path in the future where we can have students graduating earlier, on a faster pathway to work or the university. It gives so many more opportunities for the students. The more tools a student has in their educational toolbelt, the better the chances to be able to compete and fulfill their purpose in life,” said Smith.

About 20 Laurel High School students are expected to be in the first group this fall, taking face-to-face, online and hybrid classes on both campuses. Two years later in May 2023, these students are expected to leave Laurel High School with both their High School diplomas and an Associates of Arts degree from Jones College, with no expenses. The only drawback, Jackson said he had about the new Middle College program was personal.

“The Class of 2023 will be one step, actually two steps ahead of other students at the university with the Associate of Arts degree. I know they are excited to be able to get that associate degree out of the way. In fact, they may end up graduating before me, or with me!” said Jackson.

For more information about the Middle College Program contact, Dr. Michael Eubanks by email at

Jones College’s Sophomore Art Exhibit features 10 sophomores

ELLISVILLE – Ten Jones College sophomore art students had the chance to display their art as part of the Sophomore Art Exhibit in the Eula Bass Lewis Art Gallery before graduation, May 22. Sophomore artists who participated in the Sophomore Art Exhibit included Patricia Daughdrill of Prentiss, Jenna Fisher of Petal, Katherine Gomez of Laurel, Hannah Mattison of Sandersville, Solomon Page of Raleigh, Zykerianta Rodgers of Crosby, Josie Russell of Mt. Olive, Brittney Sanderson of Ellisville, Noah Schumann of Laurel and Jacqulyn Smith of Richton. This was the final opportunity for these graduates to show off their talents and set up their display.

“It is a great opportunity for students to showcase the work they’ve done here at Jones over the last two years and this year’s show looks spectacular! We prepare them in all aspects of art from learning technique and the technical aspects of creating art, to learning how to best display their artwork. They have done all the matting and hanging themselves,” said Jones College art instructor, Melanie Eubanks.

The Annual Sophomore Show is a requirement for the Exhibition IV class. This course prepares students to display their artwork in a gallery for future exhibitions. The aspiring artists were also honored for their accomplishments at a reception hosted by the college on May 11.

For more information about the JC art show or to arrange a visit to the gallery contact the gallery office at 601-477-4148.  The Eula Bass Lewis Art Gallery is open Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., and Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.  The gallery is closed for lunch daily from 11:30 until noon.  If you want to know more about the JC Fine Arts Department, check out the JC Fine Arts Facebook page at JCFineArts.