Jones College graduation keynote speaker inspires grads to live like a TOPGUN pilot

ELLISVILLE – At Jones College’s 94th Commencement Ceremony held outdoors on the North Lawn of Jones Hall, Jones College President, Dr. Jesse Smith offered a special thank you to the approximately 660 graduates participating in the ceremony. The college’s motto, “Inspiring Greatness” is especially fitting for this class because as the president acknowledged publicly, the class of 2022 has inspired administrators, faculty and staff as they persevered through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You were required to adapt in unprecedented circumstances. The level of success you attained in the midst of this season of uncertainty is remarkable. Your commitment to the classroom, your strong work ethic and your engagement in the Jones community are evidence of the future impact you will have in the world,” said Smith.

Just like the Jones College Class of 2022, President Smith said the keynote speaker and former TOPGUN Navy pilot, Major Nick Laviano also embodies the college’s theme. The Ellisville native graduated from Jones County Junior College in 2005 as a student athlete, playing soccer and golf. He earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Mississippi State University in 2008 and was accepted into the United States Navy Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as an Ensign in January 2009. A few years later after being designated as a naval aviator, his first operational assignment was in Lemoore, California, attached to the Strike Fighter Squadron 86 (VFA-86) where he flew the FA-18E Super Hornet. While there, he decided to pursue a lifelong dream and apply to the Navy Fighter Weapons School known as TOPGUN.

“The (TOPGUN) course was three months long and it was extremely demanding. To this day, I still consider graduating TOPGUN as the highlight of my career. I was also lucky enough to remain on staff as a TOPGUN instructor at the conclusion of my class. Over the following three years, I worked with the most talented group of individuals I’d ever met. It was extremely humbling and rewarding,” said Laviano.

After serving 12 years active duty in the Navy, Major Laviano has recently joined the District of Columbia Air National Guard, flying the F16 while living in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Alicia and son, Myles. As he was preparing for the JC commencement address, Laviano realized a mantra repeated at TOPGUN would be the best advice he could share with the Class of 2022.

“Be humble, approachable and credible. These three words are how you are expected to act as a student, and more importantly, how you are expected to act as an instructor. If you are not humble, approachable and credible, you will not be an effective instructor. Therefore, you will not be able to pass on the knowledge you gained through your training. I realized, this doesn’t just pertain to the military side of things, but also to everyday life,” said Laviano.

At some point in our lives, Laviano reasoned, everyone will be a teacher, mentor, advisor, or a consultant and part of the responsibility of having this knowledge is passing it on to future generations.

“If you are not humble, approachable and credible, people you are expected to train will not seek out your advice and thus break the chain you worked hard to achieve,” said Laviano.

Considering the stereotype of a fighter pilot, Laviano stressed to the audience, from his experience, the loud, cocky, brash type of people exist. However, he explained, they are usually not the best at what they do.

“The ones who are consistently sought out for their advice, are the ones who let their actions and reputation speak for themselves.  There is a high level of confidence in these people, but that is not the same as cockiness,” he explained.

Laviano’s definition of humble in a professional sense, is being a professional with a high standard. He said the leaders he esteemed always held themselves to a higher standard, and he always wanted to meet them with that standard. Laviano urged graduates to be that person who sets the standard with their actions and let their peers be the ones who notice the results.

“Treat others like how you would want to be treated…. You can always find a teachable moment but always pay attention to the type of feedback a particular person responds to best and try to tailor your instruction to help them,” Laviano advised.

Being credible is like building your brand, the Navy pilot shared. As people notice how you execute your job with good results, others will want to emulate you.

“Establish yourself as a credible source and people will naturally seek you out and your advice. In my opinion, there is no greater compliment than others seeking you out based on your expertise,” Laviano explained. “However, as long as it takes to build that credibility, it can be lost in an instant. If you hold yourself to that high standard, you’ll be just fine.”

With Major Laviano’s example of success and words of wisdom, President Smith reminded the class of 2022 the sky is the limit for them too.

“Graduates, I hope you see that your beginning here at Jones College can lead you anywhere in the world. Specifically, from a seat in Calculus Based Physics into the cockpit of America’s most advanced fighter jets. Literally, the sky is the limit! Beyond that, you can see Major Laviano’s flight plan, that you could also climb into the clouds as a TOPGUN. What could we learn from his life? He’s a great American and JC graduate and he certainly embodies our theme, ‘Inspiring Greatness!’”

Jones graduate, Wyatt Reid of Laurel said he thinks Laviano’s three standards are advice that would help him in his future endeavors. For the next seven years, Reid’s plans include getting his accounting degree, become a licensed CPA, and then earn his law degree and tax law certifications.

“My dream job would be a constitutional law, first amendment, intellectual property lawyer and I would love to represent a college or an individual on a first amendment case,” said Reid who is headed to MSU to tackle the first part of his goal.



Jones College Radiologic Technology graduates earn scholarships

ELLISVILLE – Three Jones College Radiologic Technology graduates received honors and scholarships at their completion ceremony recently. Ciera Lightsey of Leakesville earned the 2022 Clinical Student of the Year, and the Academic Student of the Year honors went to Michelle Green of Hattiesburg.

Lexie McDaniel (left) and Mandy Pearson

Earning the Mississippi Society of Radiologic Technologists Scholarship was Katelyn McKenzie. The Foxworth resident earned a $400 scholarship to continue her education. The Mississippi Radiological Society Scholarship was awarded to Lexie McDaniel of New Augusta.

The 11 Jones College Radiologic Technology graduates recognized South Central Regional Medical Center’s K.C. Singley R.T. (R) as the Technologist of the Year at the ceremony. Carrie Holiefield R.T.(R) with Covington County Hospital was honored as the Clinical Instructor of the Year.

Group Photo with instructors:  Jones College Radiologic Technology graduates are pictured with their instructors prior to graduation. Pictured in the front row, left to right, Samantha Brown, Hannah Burnham, Michelle Green, Lexie McDaniel and Mary Strickland. Pictured in the back row, left to right is instructor, Brittany Barron, students Bre Waite, Cameron McLaurin, Rachel Bryant, Ciera Lightsey, Desiree Brunty, Katelyn McKenzie and instructor, Mandy Pearson.

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 Mya McLain of Waynesboro and Wyatt Reid of Laurel. Leadership Gold Key recipients were Conner Smith of Ellisville and Anna Kate Wood of Leakesville. Soccer player Garrett Wise of Madison and softball player Lauren Lindsey of Mobile 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. Students eligible for the Academic Gold Key are, Rebekah Baugh-Oak Grove, Darcy Beech of Ellisville, Ivana Bishop of Waynesboro, Olivia Boleware of Prentiss, Morgan Breland of Ellisville, Alexis Cato of Hattiesburg, Gabriel Cooley of Hattiesburg, Abbey Dodd of Petal, Hasting Hitt of Mt. Olive, Mya McLain of Waynesboro, Sydney Pevey of Jayess, Anna Gayle of Rutledge of Crystal Springs, Madison Schneider of Laurel, Rebecca Speights of Silver Creek, Andrea Vlasceanu of Madrid Spain and Anna Kate Wood of Leakesville.


Jones College employees honored for service 

ELLISVILLE – Sixty-one Jones College faculty and staff members were recently honored for their years of service to the college during a special Employee Recognition event. Administrators and the JC Foundation treated the Jones College faculty and staff to a picnic lunch outdoors before the end of the spring semester. JC administrators honored employees for their service at five-year increments, beginning with those who have served at least five years.

Juanita Morgan, Andrew Sharp and Daphne Yeager were honored for having the most service years in 2021, with 25 years each. Morgan has worked in the Business, Financial Aid and Human Resources Offices. Andrew Sharp has been serving as the Library Director and Yeager has worked as an administrative assistant for the Business, Instructional Affairs, and the President’s Offices.

Dr. Jesse Smith, Amanda Robertson, Kari Dearman, Carmen Sumrall and Danielle Matthews.

Also honored were six employees for serving the college for 20 years: Kari Dearman-Admissions, Danielle Matthews-A.D.N. instructor, Jeffrey Morris-Grounds, Melanie James-Enrollment, Amanda Robertson-English instructor, and Carmen Sumrall-Workforce College.

Ken Savell, Dolores Deasley, Brad Harrison, Murray Windham, Jennifer Griffith, Ginger Keeton, Jason Dedwylder, Megan Stringer and Sarah Ishee.

Ten JC employees were recognized for their 15 years of service: Kelly Atwood-Journalism instructor, Dolores Deasley-Soccer coach, Jason Dedwylder-Academic Dean, Jennifer Griffith-Workforce College Dean, Brad Harrison-Industrial Services Student Services, Sarah Ishee-History instructor, Ginger Keeton-Assistant Dean of the College of Business and Technology, Kenneth Savell-Maintenance, Megan Stringer-Science instructor and Murray Windham-English instructor.

Tina Livingston, Brendan Connolly, Joe Everett, Billy Clark, Kimberly Bradshaw, Greg Wascoe, Kacie Birdsong, Rod Tolbert, Nan Pritchard and Jason Mills.

Celebrating 10 years of employment at JC were13 people: Kacie Birdsong-Registrar, Kimberly Bradshaw-Math instructor, Billy Clark-Welding instructor, Brendan Connolly-Soccer coach, Joe Everett-Campus operations, Casey Herrington-A.D.N. instructor, Jennifer Hughes-Out of School Youth Coordinator, Claire Ishee-Recruiting Director, Tina Livingston-Facilities/student affairs, Jason Mills-Agriculture/campus operations, Nan Pritchard-A.D.N. instructor, Rod Tolbert-Career and Technical Dean and Greg Wascoe-Voice/fine arts instructor.

Grant Crowder, Tracy Warden, Gene Head, Courtney McInnis, Kari Dedwylder, Stewart Walters, Kenneth Lindsey, Julie Ward, Angela Burge, Jennifer Thornton, Theresa
Woodward, Rob Ruffin, Grant Garner, Ben Burge, Paige McCardle, Joseph Emfinger, Holly Robertson, Carla Collins, Hope Taylor and Brooks Buffington.

Twenty-nine JC employees were recognized for their five years of service including Randall Beets-Commercial truck driving instructor, Brooks Buffington-Tennis coach, Angela Burge-Practical nursing instructor, Ben Burge-Director of Bands, Armendia Cochran-Paramedic instructor, Carla Collins-Athletics, Grant Crowder-Jasper County Center Director, Kari Dedwylder-Financial Aid Director, Joseph Emfinger-Chemistry instructor, Tessa Flowers-VP of Student Affairs, Grant Garner-Football coach, Gene Head-Campus police, David Helton-Pipefitting, Ashley Holifield-Student Affairs, Sarah Jones-Counselor, Anna Lane-A. D. Nursing instructor, Kenneth Lindsey-Maintenance, Paige McCardle-Workforce College, Courtney McInnis-Wayne County Learning Center, Holly Robertson-Career Services, Robert Ruffin-Environmental Services Director, Randi Simpson-Adult Education, Hope Taylor-Enrollment Management, Jennifer Thornton-Adult Education, Stewart Walters-Practical nursing instructor, Julie Ward-Environmental services, Tracy Warden-Welding Workforce College, Brandi Wilford-Practical nursing instructor and Theresa Woodward-Environmental services.

Each honored employee was given a special item designed for each level of achievement: 5 years-small plaque; 10 years-large plaque; 15 years-clock; 20 years-small acrylic trophy; 25 years-medium acrylic trophy and 30 years-large acrylic trophy.

JC students earn top chapter honors at PTK Honor Society conferences

PHOTO-Pictured seated left to right is Director of Honors in Action Project, Rebecca Speights-Silver Creek; VP of Leadership, Abby Parker of Laurel; VP of Scholarship, Acacia Rodriguez-Clinton; VP of Service, Emma Shows-Soso and Secretary, Macy Malone-Laurel.  Pictured standing left to right is College Project Director, Ivana Bishop-Waynesboro; VP of Fellowship, Will Hendry-Bay Springs; Historian, Brady Collins-Heidelberg; Southern District Representative and VP of Membership, Wyatt Reid-Laurel and President, Mya McLain-Waynesboro.

ELLISVILLE – After going virtual for the first time over the last couple of years, Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society’s conference for two-year colleges held its first in-person conference this spring in Colorado with four Jones College representatives participating. Southern District Regional Officer and VP of Membership-Wyatt Reid of Laurel, College Project Director-Ivana Bishop of Waynesboro, VP of Scholarship-Acacia Rodriguez of Clinton, and VP of Fellowship-Will Hendry of Bay Springs, returned to Mississippi with chapter rewards for their collective efforts.

Will Hendry, Ivana Bishop, Acacia Rodriguez and Wyatt Reid.

At the International “Catalyst” conference, Jones College’s Rho Sigma Chapter earned the Top 50 Distinguished College Project award. Also, the group earned the Top 39 Distinguished Chapter honors based on the College Project and Honors in Action rankings/scores combined.

“To put this in perspective, being a Top 39 Distinguished Chapter in PTK’s international membership is phenomenal! There are more than 1200 chapters across all the PTK membership,” explained PTK Advisor and JC Assistant Dean of the College of Science, Eric Shows.

At the Regional Conference, the College Project which established the first PTK Alumni Chapter at JC earned third place honors overall. The Honors-in-Action project, focusing on documenting Laurel’s history from an industrial perspective placed 6th overall and 1st place in the theme category. The chapter also earned Top 3 Distinguished Chapter in the Region. Reid was also elected to hold a regional officer position as the Southern Mississippi District Representative.

“It is uplifting to know that despite the limitations of Covid-19 over the last couple of years, we’re still doing well as a chapter,” said Shows. “All of our work is rewarding but these honors validate not only our work but also our success in selecting projects that have resonated with the PTK leadership.”

Honors in Action Director, Rebecca Speights of Silver Creek, explained the group is very proud of the work they did documenting how the timber industry in Laurel shaped the city and how it impacted the world. Jones County was also a railroad hub with city leaders deciding to build the city around the railways played a major part in the success of the timber industry.

“We recorded information provided mostly by the Executive Director of the Laurel Museum of Art Director, George Bassi, explaining how the industrial revolution affected Jones County and its impact globally. He was an invaluable resource to the success of the project video which can be found on the Jones College Phi Theta Kappa Facebook page,” said Speights.

The Jones College students admitted their only regret was not having more time to interview the founding families and share more of Laurel’s story.

Individually, Mya McLain of Waynesboro was selected to Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s All-Mississippi Academic Team and Shayna Clark of Petal was chosen for the All-Mississippi Academic Second Team. These JC students competed with more than 1,800 nominations from each of the 15-community colleges. As part of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society’s annual academic and workforce competition, each student submitted an essay, answered discussion questions, and described their leadership roles and activities while in college.

The highest-scoring nominees from each of the 15 two-year colleges earned First Team All-Mississippi honors and $500 scholarships provided by the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges. All team members received special medallions, certificates, and printed resolutions from the Mississippi Legislature.