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Mississippi College Rolls Out Red Carpet to Celebrate New Students During Welcome Week Events

Faculty, staff, and students greet and cheer student-athletes during the Choctaw Walk, a Welcome Week tradition at Mississippi College.
Faculty, staff, and students greet and cheer student-athletes during the Choctaw Walk, a Welcome Week tradition at Mississippi College.

Following a summer of relentlessly high temperatures, the return of cherished students and beloved faculty, the arrival of brand-new professors, and the influx of one of the largest incoming classes in Mississippi College’s rich history will bring a sense of relief to the Clinton campus during Welcome Week festivities Aug. 14-17.

From Back to the Bricks to MC After Dark, from Move-In Day to Choctaw Fanfare, Welcome Week Crew members will amp up the excitement with a wide range of activities to herald the beginning of the 198th academic session at the Christian University.

For crew members like Kendall Lauderdale and Mason Kennedy, the weeklong slate of events presents an opportunity to make up for lost time. The COVID-19 pandemic severely curtailed their Welcome Week experience as freshmen. Now seniors, both are eager to serve the newest members of the Choctaw family as they make fast friends and become comfortable with their surroundings, and help returning scholars feel happy to be back home.

“My Welcome Week experience as a crew member has been a lot better than when I was a new student,” said Lauderdale, a public health major from Raymond who serves as a Welcome Week student director. “There was a part of me that wanted to see and execute a normal Welcome Week. The purpose is to give students a space to adjust to campus life while forming a community of friends.

“We show students all there is to learn about MC and the different activities we have to offer. This is a time for students to transition into their college life, and we hope to provide them with numerous events where they can meet other students, get to know the campus, and find activities and groups that interest them.”

Kennedy said Welcome Week has the potential to shape how the incoming students perceive their entire college experience.

“MC does an amazing job of engaging students and showing them all the University and the community of Clinton have to offer,” said Kennedy, a biology-medical sciences major from Mendenhall. “Welcome Week events connect students with Clinton businesses, professors, local churches, and each other. It is the perfect environment for them to make friendships that will last much longer than their time at Mississippi College. It also gives them the opportunity to connect with current students who are excited to support them through their journey through MC.

“The excitement for every new student that comes to MC is unmatched anywhere else.”

Welcome Week at MC isn’t only about students – the tangible excitement is for the return of faculty and staff as well. Welcome Week officially kicks off Monday, Aug. 14, with Faculty and Staff Convocation. All Mississippi College employees will gather in Swor Auditorium at 10 a.m. to hear from institutional leaders and learn what’s in store for the upcoming academic session.

“Convocation is a special time when faculty and staff come together to hear a pivotal message from MC President Blake Thompson,” said Lori Bobo, director of university events. “They motivate and excite one another for the new academic year, establish connections with new faculty and staff members, and share a Choctaw family meal.”

She said Laura Jackson, MC COO/CFO, will welcome attendees, and Thompson will share exciting news about this fall’s enrollment numbers and what they mean for the future of the University. Mike Highfield, associate provost and graduate dean, will deliver a brief message, and a special video presentation will introduce the newest members of the faculty.

The assembly will adjourn to Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center for a Choctaw family lunch, compliments of MMI Food Services, MC’s campus dining vendor. A slideshow will introduce the newest staff members, and following the meal, Thompson will recognize the University’s professor emerita recipients.

“This is the only time in the academic year when faculty and staff assemble as a whole to celebrate MC,” Bobo said. “It is a time of reflection, renewal, and excitement.”

You may never get a second chance to make a first impression, but Move-In Day on Wednesday, Aug. 16, will give Mississippi College the first chance to make a second impression for new students and family members, according to Chip Wilson, associate director of student engagement.

“Their first impression is New Student Orientation – the second is Move-In Day,” Wilson said. “Every person they come across on campus should make them feel like they’re the most important person they will interact with that day. It’s not just a time to move into their residence halls – it’s an exciting time when families can be together before we start the student-only events and to let them know that we don’t take their students’ transition to college life lightly.

“For generations, parents have left their students at Mississippi College on Move-In Day. Moms cry as they leave and Dads comfort them as they drive away. Our goal is to let them know their kids will do great here, and we’re excited to have them.”

Darcy Jones and Alden Alfonso remember the uncertainties they felt about starting their undergraduate careers at MC until Move-In Day made them feel right at home.

“Being an out-of-state student made me think that I would not fit into college life in Mississippi, but my experience on Move-In Day made me realize that the people at MC really wanted to know me and make me feel comfortable,” said Jones, a sophomore psychology major from Shawnee, Oklahoma. His experience last year made such an impact that he volunteered to help freshmen move in during this year’s event.

“I remember how intentional the students were during my Move-In Day, and I wanted to be a part of that same experience for students this year,” he said. “The students and staff at MC made the whole experience feel very welcoming and they continued to put an effort into getting to know us even after Move-In Day.”

Alfonso marveled at the efficiency and care upperclassmen and staff took with helping him get settled into his residence hall.

“When I pulled up with my Dad, there were about 20 students immediately ready to help unload our two vehicles,” the pre-law major from Ocean Springs said. “There were a lot of students who already knew each other, and being from the coast, I came to MC knowing no one. But everyone was so friendly. My anxiousness subsided pretty quickly.”

Alfonso said he volunteered to help freshmen move in this year to help pay the welcoming experience forward.

“I volunteered because a lot of people made my arrival really nice, and I’d like to do the same for other new students,” he said. “We have an amazing student body made up of folks from all walks of life. Everyone wants to be accepted socially. Incoming students can be confident knowing they’re accepted before arriving – they truly belong at MC.”

“The fact that upperclassmen are willing to come back to MC a few days early and spend their morning helping people move in and welcome them speaks to the character of Mississippi College students,” Wilson said. “They saw others helping them and wanted to serve their fellow students by making them feel comfortable as part of the community.

“It helps parents feel that MC is a good place to leave their students.”

Jonathan Nutt, assistant dean of students, said MC upperclassmen and athletes will help freshmen move to campus residence halls between 8 a.m.-noon and transfer students from 10 a.m.-noon. Other new students may move in starting at 2 p.m.

“Move-In Day has become a great tradition on campus,” Nutt said. “It’s a great day for our entire campus community, especially our newest Choctaws.”

Those newcomers won’t have much time to get settled in. At 3 p.m., they will gather with their families at First Baptist Church Clinton for New Student and Parent Convocation.

Rebecca Benson, assistant dean for Christian leadership at MC, said the ceremony serves as the official launch of the new students’ time at MC.

“We welcome them into the MC family and charge them to uphold the pillars of our culture and mission,” Benson said. “We’ll focus specifically on academic excellence and commitment to the cause of Christ.”

During convocation, Dr. Christopher Weeks, MC associate professor of biology, will deliver a message setting expectations for academic excellence and challenging the students to carry forward the Christian University’s legacy.”

“He will tell the students the time has come for them to take on the responsibility of their academic careers here,” Benson said. “They won’t just be completing assignments and coursework at MC – they’ll be pursuing excellence.”

Benson will explain how the University’s commitment to the cause of Christ is what unifies the campus in a central purpose. Greg Pouncey, senior pastor at FBC Clinton, will challenge the parents to continue leading, loving, and caring for their students as they begin their undergraduate careers at MC. Jonathan Ambrose, associate vice president for the student experience and dean of students, will also speak and address the students, as will Thompson, who will officially welcome the new students and parents to the MC family.

“We’re excited for a large, new crowd of students and families,” Benson said. “We want to remind our new families always to come back to the Gospel. We want to focus their attention on Christ and His work, and strive to know the Lord as Father.

“As their kids grow in knowledge and experience while at MC, we want them to hold firmly to both the pursuit of growth and dependence on the Lord in their day-to-day lives. We want to prepare them for what their faith will look like once they reach the career fields they are training for.”

At the conclusion of convocation, the freshmen students will file out of FBC Clinton, and Thompson will lead them in their inaugural walk through the gates at the entrance of campus, through the Quad, and to the steps on College Street, where their official class photo will be taken. MC’s campus bell will toll during the processional, and the class will be greeted with cheers from MC’s upperclassmen, student-athletes, faculty, and staff members.

Following the freshman class photo, the Choctaw Fanfare will begin at 4 p.m. Varsity student-athletes that compete for Mississippi College in the Gulf South Conference, MC cheerleaders, and MC dance squad members will parade through the Quad to the resounding music of the University’s marching band. The freshman students will join upperclassmen, faculty, and staff to applaud the Division II student-athletes in the traditional Choctaw Walk, and the they will sign autographs and mingle with the MC family at tailgating tents lining the heart of campus.

Bobo said the event lays the foundation for the connectivity of student-athletes and the general student body.

“Administration, Alumni, Athletics, Student Engagement, and the Office of Marketing and Communication come together to plan, engage, and execute the first Choctaw family gathering of the new year,” Bobo said. “This is an MC signature event that gives us the opportunity to share with our new students and their families what it is to be a Choctaw.

“This event will be the best welcome home celebration.”

At 6 p.m., the Choctaw football team will give a preview of the 2023 gridiron campaign by conducting a scrimmage in Robinson-Hale Stadium. After the game, new MC students will bid their families goodbye and head back to the Quad and the Caf patio for the debut of MC After Dark, a special addition to Welcome Week at MC.

Kelsey Sanchez, assistant director of first-year experience, said the event presented by the Welcome Week Crew will include several glow-in-the-dark activities.

“We are excited to see our students back on campus, and this is a great opportunity for them to have some fun, meet new friends, and find ways to build community,” Sanchez said. “I am most looking forward to the glow-in-the-dark mini golf, but we have a few fun surprises planned that will be exciting for the new students.”

The following evening, the City of Clinton, the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, and Main Street Clinton will welcome new and returning students to MC during Back to the Bricks in Olde Towne.

Nutt said representatives from local businesses, churches, and other organizations set up tables and displays along Jefferson Street and welcome students back to the community with goodies and giveaway items. The event will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17.

“Typically, about 60 businesses participate in Back to the Bricks,” Nutt said. “There will be door prizes from every business, and most of the merchants offer free giveaways or food items. Some may even give away coupons.”

Representatives from local churches will provide information about their student activities, and some may offer free transportation to their Sunday and Wednesday services. MC students may even discover a new church home away from home.

“Back to the Bricks is a great way to connect Mississippi College with the Clinton community and make our students feel at home in Clinton,” Nutt said. “What could be better than having fun, getting free stuff, connecting with local businesses, and learning more about our community?”

Thanks to Welcome Week at MC, all students should feel confident they are right where they need to be by the time classes start on Monday, Aug. 21.

“We have prayed for and over this new class of students and cannot wait to have them on campus,” Lauderdale said. “We are excited to welcome them to MC.”