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Choctaw Tribal Chief to Offer Faith-filled Message to MC Graduates During Central Commencement

Cyrus Ben, the fifth democratically elected Tribal Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and a 2001 graduate of Mississippi College, will address MC graduates during Central Commencement May 4.
Cyrus Ben, the fifth democratically elected Tribal Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and a 2001 graduate of Mississippi College, will address MC graduates during Central Commencement May 4.

According to James, a brother of Jesus and a pillar in the Christian church, “faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14-26)

The concept of combining belief and works to form a well-rounded life resonates with Cyrus Ben, the fifth democratically elected Tribal Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and a 2001 graduate of Mississippi College.

“You must put the work in to succeed, but without faith, there is nothing,” Ben said. “You must have faith, but you also have to put work into it.

“From a life perspective, especially a spiritual life, you have to put in the work.”

That’s the message Ben will deliver to more than 400 members of MC’s Class of 2023 when he gives the keynote address during Mississippi College’s Central Commencement at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, on the Quad, weather permitting. The event celebrates MC graduates’ accomplishments and will include live music, the giving of the alumni charge, and the seniors’ traditional class photos on the steps and exiting through the gates.

“These graduates have been provided the resources to succeed in life,” Ben said. “They have accomplished a significant achievement and are moving to the next step. They have talent and information they can use, but they also must have faith – not only in a higher power, but faith in themselves and their abilities.

“They can impact their coworkers, families, friends – their entire world. God has given them a talent. Use it as a tool.”

Individual school receptions will follow the Central Commencement at 7:30 p.m. Students, their families, and guests can meet the MC faculty and administrators who have played key roles in the graduates’ success.

Degree ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, May 5, in the A.E. Wood Coliseum. Students are required to wear their regalia, and each graduate will be recognized by name as they cross the stage to receive their diploma cover from MC President Blake Thompson.

The ceremony for the School of Nursing, School of Science and Mathematics, and Interdisciplinary Studies is scheduled for 10 a.m., the ceremony for the School of Education is set for 1 p.m., and the ceremony for the School of Business, the School of Christian Studies and the Arts, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is slated for 4 p.m.

The significant steps Ben has taken this academic year to help strengthen the relationship between the Choctaw people and his alma mater are rooted in his belief that both institutions are valuable resources for the state of Mississippi.

During a visit by MC administrative leaders to Tribal Lands in Neshoba County last July, Ben and Thompson signed a memorandum of understanding that created a valuable tuition assistance program for Choctaw students and established an expanded cultural exchange between MC and the MBCI, the only federally recognized Native American tribe in the state.

“I have always wanted to establish a better relationship with MC, my alma mater, and my Tribe,” Ben said. “There was always a need at MC for more knowledge of the Choctaw People. Now, there is this great relationship President Thompson and I have built.

“I love MC even more now than I did when I went to school there.”

To emphasize the relationship, Ben attended Homecoming at Mississippi College last fall, where he received the 2022 Order of the Golden Arrow, emblematic of an MC alum who has accomplished outstanding personal or professional achievements in their professions, businesses, or careers, and exceptional performance or leadership beyond the ordinary.

During ceremonies before the Homecoming football game, Ben delivered the MCBI’s official Tribal Flag to Robinson-Hale Stadium, where it was proudly raised and continues to fly alongside the American flag and the Mississippi state flag as a symbol of the relationship between MC and the Choctaw people.

And on April 5, Ben joined fellow MBCI members in bringing “Choctaw Expressions,” an authentic Native American festival, to Alumni Hall on the MC campus. During the lively display of Choctaw culture, MBCI members performed traditional Choctaw dances, demonstrated the ancestral artistry of beading and basket weaving, displayed the athleticism of their cultural sport, stickball, and inspired attendees to learn more about Mississippi’s rich Native American culture.

“The event helped educate the Mississippi College community and others about our Choctaw culture,” Ben said. “Seeing the MC students, faculty, and other attendees being attentive and interested in our culture was fulfilling.”

A life-long resident of Neshoba County, Ben attended East Central Community College in Decatur before visiting MC. He liked what he saw of the Clinton campus and decided to pursue his degree in business.

“I enjoyed my time at Mississippi College,” he said. “The experience was very pleasant, from professors to business school staff and educators.

“I say it over and over, but it’s true: I am Choctaw by blood and Choctaw by education.”

He was elected Tribal Chief about the same time as Thompson became MC’s 20th president, and was officially sworn into office on July 9, 2019. At the time, he was the youngest Tribal Chief in the MBCI’s history.

Ben credits Mississippi College for helping him prepare for his leadership role with the MBCI.

“Students are successful in their careers because the professors at MC challenged us in the classroom,” Ben said. “Many times, the way professors presented the courses involved real-life application. We could understand how things worked in real life because we had already learned about it in the classroom.”

Ben is guided in his leadership and service to the Choctaw People by five key initiatives: respect of others; fairness and equality to all; accountability in all areas; efficiency in practices; and support and appreciation of all employees and Tribal members.

Choctaws throughout Mississippi turn to him for the careful education and mentoring of their children and strong, thoughtful guidance of their community. The MBCI is a sovereign nation with more than 11,000 tribal members. There are eight tribal communities, with Pearl River serving as the headquarters of the Tribal Government. Tribal Lands encompass more than 34,000 non-contiguous acres.

Ben and his wife, TaRita, raise their three children, Brodie, Eden, and Selah, in the Pearl River community.

His diligent efforts to carve an agreement between his Tribe and his alma mater is a testament to his belief that the relationship between MC and the Choctaw People will remain mutually beneficial for generations to come.

“Bringing people together and helping to facilitate a deeper understanding and respect for our Choctaw culture and history is important,” he said. “At Homecoming, it was a great honor to receive the Order of the Golden Arrow, see other alumni, and raise the Tribal Flag.

“Moments such as those we have had in the past year will forever be special to me.”

Being asked to speak to Mississippi College graduates and their families during the Central Ceremony will be another moment worth remembering for the Choctaw leader.

“It is a tremendous honor to be asked to provide the Commencement speech at this year’s Graduation Ceremony, especially with the progress we have made with the MOU between the Tribe and the University,” he said. “You need a spiritual drive to get your education and faith in yourself to achieve the goals you have established. In life, having a spiritual walk helps a person be grounded and able to go through tough times.

“Life will throw obstacles and challenges in front of you. Having a wealth of knowledge spiritually and academically helps you face those challenges.”

For more information about Mississippi College’s 2023 Commencement, click here.