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History-Making Alumna, Senatorial Spouse to Speak at Mississippi College’s Central Ceremony

On May 2, Gayle Long Wicker will join a select few speakers who have delivered the Commencement address at multiple MC graduation ceremonies. The following week, her husband, Sen. Roger Wicker, will speak at MC Law's Commencement.
On May 2, Gayle Long Wicker will join a select few speakers who have delivered the Commencement address at multiple MC graduation ceremonies. The following week, her husband, Sen. Roger Wicker, will speak at MC Law's Commencement.

Gayle Long Wicker hadn’t planned to make history when she decided to run for student body president at Mississippi College in 1971.

As a former member of the Student Senate, Wicker was convinced that as president, she could make a difference for her classmates.

“I didn’t run to have the honor of being the first woman elected to the position,” she said. “My parents had raised me with the thought that you can do anything you want to if you work hard enough and really try. Whether you’re male or female or what your color is doesn’t make a difference – It’s what you’re qualified to do and the gifts that God has given you.

“At the time, I didn’t realize the doors that it was opening for other young women.”

Five years later, her first cousin, Peggy McDaniel Welch, became the second woman elected to the office. But Wicker’s stint as student body president wouldn’t be the only time she blazed a significant trail at MC.

Shortly after graduating, she became her alma mater’s first female admissions counselor. And in 1996, she was appointed one of the first two female members of Mississippi College’s Board of Trustees.

On Thursday, May 2, the Tupelo native will add another significant achievement to her impressive collection. When she speaks to more than 400 members of MC’s Class of 2024 at 5:30 p.m. during the Central Ceremony on the Quad, weather permitting, she will join a select few who have delivered the address at multiple MC graduation ceremonies. Wicker also served as the featured speaker at MC’s Commencement in 2018.

“I’m humbled, I’m honored, and I’m almost speechless to think that I would be considered twice,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity and I hope to provide a few words of wisdom. If they get one little jewel out of the speech that might inspire them to do great things for their University, for their church, and in their neighborhood, that can make a difference.

“Everybody has an opportunity to do something great. That great thing might just be giving somebody a word of encouragement or a hug on a day that they need it. You never know what that opportunity is going to be. As long as you’re not always looking at yourself, those opportunities present themselves and God opens doors to you every day.”

The Central Ceremony celebrates MC graduates’ accomplishments and will include live music, the giving of the alumni charge, the seniors’ traditional class photo on the steps, and their ceremonial exit through the gates along College Street. Students will not wear regalia to this event, but business casual dress is encouraged.

Individual school receptions will follow the Central Ceremony 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’ successes.

Degree ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, May 3, 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 Business, the School of Christian Studies and the Arts, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is slated for 10 a.m. The ceremony for the School of Nursing, School of Science and Mathematics, and all interdisciplinary studies degrees is scheduled for 1 p.m. The ceremony for the School of Education is set for 4 p.m.

Wicker obtained her undergraduate degree in 1972 and her masters’ degree in 1974 from Mississippi College. A former recipient of the Department of Communications’ Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award, she was the University’s selection for the Order of the Golden Arrow in 2008.

Her decision to attend MC sprang from a Baptist Youth Night outing to the Mississippi Coliseum during high school. Her youth group stayed in Clinton, where she discovered the University’s collegial Christian environment.

“Our summer youth director, Johnny White, was a student at MC, and I think he had a profound impact on me,” she said. “When I visited Mississippi College, it was the atmosphere that I wanted. I just felt this is the place for me.”

She stayed in Hederman Hall all four years of her undergraduate career and built close relationships that have lasted a lifetime. Thinking she might one day become an interpreter at the United Nations, she started out studying Spanish, but the rigors of advanced classes convinced her to seek another major.

She considered elementary education, doing some practice teaching at Provine High School. Her father sang the praises of MC’s exceptional School of Business. But she eventually gravitated toward the Speech Department.

Wicker spent many hours acting in plays in the Aven Fine Arts Building, joined MC’s Debate Team, and honed her considerable skills in discourse by competing in national competitions. As student body president, she gained experience in the art of persuasion.

“The faculty were wonderful to work with,” she said. “I learned a lot from them, and I had a wonderful cabinet. I found that surrounding yourself with smart, competent people is a key to success in life.”

Wicker met her future husband while serving in the Mississippi Youth Congress. Gayle and Roger married in 1975. The couple has three children – Margaret McPhillips, Caroline Sims, and McDaniel Wicker – and eight grandchildren.

Sen. Roger Wicker has represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate since December 2007. Prior to his U.S. Senate service, he was elected seven times to represent Mississippi’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gayle learned all about the legislative process in the Mississippi Youth Congress. During her senior year at MC, she was elected Leader of the Senate. After graduating with a degree in speech, she obtained a master’s in counseling from MC.

“I had a liberal arts education at MC that, as it has turned out in God’s plan for my life, has been very helpful and useful to me,” Wicker said.

Recently, when her husband had to remain in Washington, D.C. for Senatorial hearings and to cast important votes, she drew upon her educational experience at Mississippi College to successfully debate two of her husband’s opponents in his recent state primary campaign.

“That Debate Team experience is still paying off,” she said.

Through the years, she has maintained a solid relationship with her alma mater.

“When something has a positive impact on your life, you want to give back,” Wicker said. “Within any community, that’s important, and Mississippi College is part of my community and my life.”

She won’t be the only Wicker to address graduates this year. Roger is scheduled to speak at the Mississippi College School of Law’s graduation at 10 a.m. Friday, May 10, at First Baptist Church Jackson.

“I know he’ll do a wonderful job,” Gayle said. “He’s an excellent speaker, writer, and legislator. He’s very creative and intelligent. I think he’s a perfect choice.

“The fact that the leadership of Mississippi College looked at both of us and said we want them to give these important presentations – I don’t have words for that, other than, ‘Thank you very much.’”

Wicker is proud of Mississippi College and the significant role it plays in higher education today. 

“I’m all in on my alma mater, a school which stays true to its founding principles of truth and virtue in a Christian setting. When students can come to a place where they know that they will be getting an excellent education and will be surrounded by people who believe in Christian principles and Biblical teachings, it is more important today than ever.”

For more information about Mississippi College’s 2024 Commencement, click here.