Wicker Celebrates Mississippi Students

Rising Generation Signals a Bright Future

December 22, 2023

When folks visited my Washington, D.C., office this month, they were greeted by a shining Christmas tree decorated by students from New Albany Middle School. Up and down the tree, colorful drawings and etchings showcase our state symbols, prominent landmarks, and the mascots of our colleges and universities.

My wife, Gayle, started this tradition. Over the past few years, she and I have invited schools across the state to contribute ornaments. These decorations honor Mississippi history, and they also demonstrate our rising generation’s creativity.

Ornaments Tell Mississippi’s History

This fall, I visited New Albany Middle School to attend a presentation of the students’ ornaments. I toured the school’s “Imagine STEAM Lab,” a state-of-the-art learning center which uses a hands-on approach to introduce students to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. In the lab, students use 3-D printers and laser engravers and learn about cutting-edge tools, including robotics and drones.

Teachers at the school reported that the students had taken approximately a month to research and craft these ornaments in their art classes. By studying the stories of our state, they came to appreciate their place in Mississippi’s past. Visiting the Imagine STEAM Lab teaches them that they can play a role in the technologies that will shape our state’s future.

Students Dream Big for Mississippi’s Future

Learning environments such as the Imagine STEAM Lab prepare our students for the innovation happening in Mississippi’s universities and businesses. Young people in other parts of the state also get to participate in our state’s industry even before they graduate. One of our industry leaders, Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding, regularly teaches high schoolers trade skills. This equips them for lucrative careers, helps local economies, and bolsters national security all at the same time.

The life story of a researcher at one of our universities highlights the opportunities our state offers. A native Mississippian, he grew up wanting to be a scientist. When he shared that aspiration with adults, they affirmed his goal but said there were no jobs for scientists in Mississippi. He proved them wrong. After earning advanced research degrees, he found a job in-state. His story shows that we can retain top talent. Today, he often visits with young people and inspires them to dream big for their careers and communities.

Students in our state have additional reasons for optimism this year. Many have written about the remarkable “Mississippi Miracle,” in which our fourth-grade reading scores rocketed up in recent tests. Reading skills are the foundation for a lifetime of learning, and we have outstanding educators to thank for this incredible jump.

Young Mississippians Practice Patriotism

In my travels across the state, I have witnessed the next generation picking up the mantle of freedom. I recently met with a group of high school seniors participating in a civics education program. They asked detailed questions about current legislation and how to be respectful amid political disagreement. Our democratic system relies on informed citizens, and these students should give us faith for our nation’s future leaders.

In another encouraging development, more students across the state are participating in Junior ROTC. In Congress, I have authored and successfully passed legislation to increase the number of Junior ROTC programs available across America, including in rural areas. That work bore fruit this fall when Clinton High School opened the state’s first Coast Guard Junior ROTC chapter. These programs improve student outcomes, and they mold cadets into the kind of citizens who will make Mississippi a bright light for years to come.