As we begin the start of a new semester, I am confident that we are ready to have a great spring semester and bright new year. It’s hard to believe how much we have been through and overcome since last March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to make unprecedented changes to how we fulfill our mission of teaching, research, and service.
Thanks to the incredible efforts of all of you, we concluded a successful fall semester that saw us set a new enrollment record, reach new heights in research, and provide exceptional learning experiences utilizing traditional and new instructional methods and technologies. Our students continued to work toward graduation, and we were able to hold four in-person commencement ceremonies. We also continued to meet the needs of so many communities in our state with our extension and outreach programs.
I believe we have a plan in place to have an equally successful spring, but we all must do our part and follow campus, state, and federal guidelines. Please wear a mask and practice physical distancing when you are with others, and don’t forget to wash your hands frequently. I’d also encourage you to take advantage of testing opportunities, such as the recent testing we hosted for students. I’m also encouraged by the promise of the COVID-19 vaccines, and I’m pleased that we are partnering with the Mississippi State Department of Health and Oktibbeha County to utilize the Mississippi Horse Park as a public drive-thru vaccination site. If we remain vigilant, I am hopeful that we can beat this virus.
On Monday, we will celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, we are unable to gather in person at our traditional Unity Breakfast, and I can’t tell you how sad that makes me. It is one of the highlights of my year. However, we have a wonderful virtual program planned with keynote speaker Reuben Anderson, the first African-American justice to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Most recently, Justice Anderson chaired the commission to redesign our state’s flag. He is an outstanding leader and speaker, and I look forward to hearing from him.
Of course, since we last celebrated Dr. King’s life and work a year ago, a great deal has happened in our nation. This past summer, we saw a great awakening to racial injustice and major protests in cities across the country. I’m grateful that here in our own community we witnessed an outpouring of love and respect with the Starkville Stand Up march that we were so proud to host on our campus in early June. I believe it is most fitting for an institution of higher learning like Mississippi State to take the lead in hosting these events.
We have also been through a contentious national election in our country — one that culminated in the unthinkable storming and assault on our nation’s hallowed Capitol and all that it represents. During my earlier professional life in Washington, D.C., I had the good fortune to work in the U.S. Capitol Complex for 18 years. I have the greatest respect and admiration for this revered seat of our national government and was deeply disturbed and saddened by the events that unfolded on January 6. It was shocking to see the Capitol and all that it stands for desecrated in such a heinous manner.
A founding principle of our country is that regardless of our political differences or social views we find our resolutions through debate and dialogue. There is never a justification for violence. But while the assault on the Capitol was profoundly distressing, I retain my faith in our people and our institutions and remain hopeful for our future. Amid this current strife, it was remarkable to see our new state flag raised above the Mississippi Capitol on Monday. I’m so proud of our university and our Bulldog Family for joining others to get the flag changed. This new flag is a powerful symbol that change for the better is always possible if we are willing to work together.
I’m also very proud of you, our students, who are committed to our values of integrity, hard work, and respect — becoming the leaders we will need for a better and brighter future for all. I’m also grateful for you, our world-class faculty and staff, and so appreciative of all that you do every day. It is a great honor and privilege to serve this university as president because of outstanding people like you.
As we move forward into the spring, let me leave you with a few reminders. Students, always go to class! And everyone, please stay safe and stay healthy! May God bless you all, and Hail State!
Mark E. Keenum