Mississippi Valley State University students are more than just students — they’re miracles. 

That’s according to Victor McTeer, a retired civil rights attorney who was the keynote speaker for MVSU’s 67th Annual Commencement, held Saturday at the university’s R.W. Harrison Sports Complex in two sessions.

“You were born to be a miracle,” McTeer told the crowd of MVSU graduates clad in black robes and black caps. “There should be no doubt that you’re successful, because you’re here.”

A total of 480 graduates received degrees. A majority of them are from the region, fitting for a school that identifies itself as an educational oasis in the Delta. Yet they also came from other states and other countries, including Tanzania, Ghana and Kazakhstan.

Seated among the sea of black caps and gowns was a pocket of gold, where 40 “golden” graduates, dressed in bright yellow graduation regalia, came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduating from the institution in 1969, when MVSU was named Mississippi Valley State College.

In addition to congratulations, McTeer offered graduates a few words of advice.

“Find a mentor — some person who does exactly what you want to do,” McTeer said. “Mentors come in all shapes, all sizes, all races.”

He also told the graduates to “learn to give back to the people who gave to you,” saying, “That is the obligation we owe to our families, our communities.”

Dr. Jerryl Briggs, MVSU’s president, played short samplings of various songs so graduates could dance along to release some of their pent-up energy.

“Let’s cheer loud, but let’s be short,” Briggs advised graduates’ friends and families for when their loved ones were called to pick up their diplomas. For some, however, shouts of joy were more suitable than applause when the graduates took the stage.

Some family members and friends wore shirts with the names of their graduates. One family held up hand fans bearing the shape and face of their loved one.

Stormy Green of Southaven, who earned a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and recreation, and Patrice Otero of Greenwood, who received a bachelor’s in English education, were recognized for each finishing the year with a 4.0 GPA.

MVSU graduation 2

Lakesha Luton-Clark, left, a 2019 Mississippi Valley State University grad with a general studies degree, celebrates her graduation Saturday with her son, Ashton, and her husband, Antonio. 

Lakesha Luton-Clark of Belzoni, who received a bachelor’s degree in general studies, said she’ll pursue a master’s degree in childhood education at MVSU. Dominique Burks of Yazoo City, who received her bachelor’s in criminal justice, also will return to work on a master’s.

Jesse Wells, 52, of Greenville said he had a rough patch in his life for several decades before receiving a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“Literally, I came out of prison and straight to Valley,” said Wells, who spent 30 years locked up in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections until he was released in December 2014.

Wells said that when he was 17 and under the influence of several drugs, among them phencyclidine (PCP), commonly referred to as angel dust, he killed someone in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He described the incident as a “senseless crime.”

While behind bars, Wells earned an associate’s degree. He began his studies at MVSU in January 2015, commuting to Itta Bena from Greenville, where he lived with family.

The programs provided to Wells in prison by social workers influenced him to pursue his degree. He said he’s considering returning to MVSU to get his master’s in social work.

He said his crime was “a lesson” and his graduation was “a blessing.”

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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