Smith spurs students to make a change in their world at summer graduation ceremony

Written By: Kelly Atwood
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Date Submitted: 2016-08-05 20:58:15

   The Jones County Junior College summer graduation ceremony, held August 5 in the Fine Arts Auditorium, was a significant day for the more than 100 students who participated, but it was especially significant for one student.

   In 2012, Pennie Frith was preparing for her first day of college at Hinds when she had a stroke, caused by lupus, medications and stress. Although she doesn’t remember the stroke, she does remember the recovery time and the depression that came with the life-changing event. It was a year before she decided to enroll in college again, and this time, she chose Jones.

    She and her sister both enrolled at Jones and carpooled from McComb to Ellisville each semester. Frith said that at first, she was shy and embarrassed that she used a walker, a result of the stroke, and felt everyone would just see the walker and not her. However, the results were completely different from what she feared. Instead, she made friends with students, developed personal relationships with staff and faculty and was often told she was an inspiration to others.

    “(With her lupus) sometimes I’m so tired and unmotivated. I have to force myself to get up and go to school,” she said. “I tell students if I can do it, you can too. With Jesus I can do anything I put my mind to.”

    While at Jones, Frith was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for full-time students who maintain a 3.5 G.P.A or higher. The criminal justice major plans to attend Mississippi State University this fall.

   Frith has always had an interest in criminal justice due to the impact it had on her family. Her father was murdered when she was very young. The perpetrator was arrested and is serving time in jail. Growing up hearing the family story heavily influenced her, but she also has a desire to make a difference in the world for others.

   “Not everyone is going by the law like they should,” the future lawyer said. “The conflict that’s going on now has me wondering what I can do to change it.”

    Reaching students regarding the messages of conflict and change was exactly what JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith wanted to do with his commencement speech to the summer graduates. He talked about hate seen in the present day world and compared hate to a virus, which grows inside people and becomes part of their DNA. He explained that everyone is infected with the hate virus and that it is growing within our society.

    “The environment that we are in today is the perfect environment for the (hate) virus to become pandemic,” Smith said as he listed off countries currently hostile to one another.  “(The environment) is evident by school shootings, by reckless police shootings and now by shooting of police officers. It’s goaded by the media and spread on social media.”

    He shared with students the cure for hate, which were lessons he learned from the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

   “We need to know and accept that some people aren’t going to like us simply because we’re different than they are,” said Smith. “There is some good in the worst of human beings and there is some bad in the best of human beings. Dr. King says to focus on what is good in your enemy.”

    He pointed out there will be times in life when a person will have the power to retaliate against an enemy. Although the natural response is an eye for an eye, instead, do not retaliate.

    “The strong person is the one who can cut off the chain of evil, the chain of hate. We need to be that particle of light…” said Smith. “Wouldn’t you agree that our world is upside down today?

   “Can we turn this madness of hate around? With your version of love and your version of tolerance, I’m certain of it. I look forward to seeing all of your successes in how you’ve changed our part of the world.”

    Frith said that Smith’s talk really touched her and made her reflect on recent killings of people in the news and in surrounding states. She said their lives were “taken because of hate. We all hear about great people every day and their lives get taken from them because of hate. The president’s message was just so strong because we all have that hate but we also have the ability to see the good in people. We can make a change in the world by avoiding the negative and focusing on the positive.”

    The morning ceremony awarded Associate in Arts degrees, Associate in Applied Science degrees and Vocational Certificates. A total of 211 degrees and certificates were completed this summer. 



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