Maroon and white pride: MSU honors 17 students with Spirit of State Awards

Pictured with MSU President Mark E. Keenum (back row, far right) and Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Young Hyatt (back row, far left) are the 2019 Spirit of State Award recipients. They include (front row, left to right) Reagan Moak, Taylor Parsons, Sarah Avera, Meenakshi Das, Anastasia Rentouli, Jonnese Goings, Kali Hicks, Alana Knowles; (back row, left to right) Mayah Emerson, Sydney Reed, Stanley Blackmon Jr., Jennifer Ware, Meghin Smith, Shelby Baldwin, Grey Garris, Reginald Roakes and Dee Stegall. (Photo by Beth Wynn)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Seventeen Bulldog students with a fierce passion for Mississippi State were honored today [April 12] with the Spirit of State Award, the university’s premier student recognition for exceptional personal contributions to campus life.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum congratulated and thanked this year’s Spirit of State Award winners for their passion and commitment to serve and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“I greatly appreciate your contributions to this university, this community and to our state. The wonderful education you’ve received and the values that you have learned at Mississippi State—hard work, integrity and respect for others—will help you for the rest of your life.”

For 14 years, the annual Spirit of State Awards program, organized by the university’s Division of Student Affairs, formally honors those who have made a positive impact on peers and the broader campus community through organizational involvement, service to the institution and personal actions promoting school spirit and tradition.

Those selected have been nominated either by faculty and staff members or fellow students. A minimum 2.25 grade point average and good academic and disciplinary standing within the university are among the eligibility criteria.

Grey W. Garris, a senior biological sciences major from Vestavia Hills, Alabama, is among this year’s Spirit of State Award recipients. He said his four years on campus have been a journey where he has seen a lot of positive change made possible because of “the sheer tenacity of small numbers of dedicated students.”

Garris said leadership roles in such campus organizations as the Residence Hall Association and LGBTQ+ Union gave him “the first home I’ve ever had that wasn’t my immediate family.”

“These opportunities incited more personal growth than I could have dreamed of, pushed my technical, social and professional skills to the utmost, and allowed me to develop relationships with administrators who were interested in developing this campus for students, not simply because of them,” he said. “This campus has given me confidence I never experienced before coming here, pride in my identity and capabilities, an ease with others that had not existed, and a drive to improve what I can, however I can, for as long I can.”

Garris said these MSU experiences will help in his pursuit of a public health career where he can work for the betterment of minorities.

“I know that with all of the support I’ve been given that I can turn that around and make someone else feel that they are enough, too,” he said.

Terranecia L. “Bria” Henderson, a public policy and administration master’s student and summa cum laude communication/journalism and pre-law bachelor’s graduate from Madison, was a 2017 Spirit of State Award recipient.

“You invited the idea that you should always leave a place better than when you found it,” she reminded the award recipients. “Your spirit, hard work and dedication will endure forever. Please carry the talent and dedication that you have with you right now everywhere you go.”

The new Spirit of State Award recipients include (by hometown):

ATHENS, Greece—Anastasia Rentouli, a senior finance and marketing double-major.

MERIDIAN—Sarah K. Avera, a senior biological engineering/biomedical engineering major; and Mayah J. Emerson, a senior educational psychology major.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama—Stanley C. Blackmon Jr., a senior biochemistry/pre-medicine major.

BRANDON—Reagan M. Moak, a senior biochemistry/pre-medicine major.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina—Sydney A. Reed, a senior biological engineering/biomedical engineering major.

DECATUR—Alana R. Knowles, a senior psychology major at MSU-Meridian.

FRANKLIN, Tennessee—Kali M. Hicks, a senior communication/public relations and foreign language/Spanish double-major.

HATTIESBURG—Taylor L. Parsons, a senior communication/public relations major.

MOUNDVILLE, Alabama—Reginald K. Roakes, a geosciences/professional meteorology and climatology master’s student. He also holds an MSU bachelor’s degree in geosciences/professional meteorology.

PHILADELPHIA—Meghin E. Smith, a senior interdisciplinary studies major.

PORT GIBSON—Jonnese O. Goings, a senior management major.

PUNE, India—Meenakshi M. Das, a senior computer science major.

RIDGELAND—Shelby B. Baldwin, a senior marketing major.

SMITHVILLE—Demarus S. “Dee” Stegall, a senior communication/public relations major.

TUPELO—Jennifer L. Ware, a senior biological engineering/biomedical engineering major.

VESTAVIA HILLS, Alabama—Grey W. Garris, a senior biological sciences major.

For more on MSU’s Division of Student Affairs, visit

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at