Toyota Blue Springs Plant President Sean Suggs
Addresses Mississippi High School Graduates
Five Smooth Stones
by Sean Suggs

It’s a privilege to address the senior class of 2020! You are a unique graduating class, as you were born just after the 9/11 terrorist attack, and now you graduate as our world faces the COVID-19 crisis. As you and your parents know very well, life isn’t easy. While today, you may feel unsure about the future, I want to encourage you to run with confidence and endurance during these challenging times!
Sean Suggs
President - Toyota Motor Manufacturing MS
Chair - Public Education Forum of Mississippi
Some of you may be thinking, “Sure, easy for you to say, you’re the president of a major automotive company!”, I can promise you my success was not handed to me and it was not easy. 

  • Being the youngest of seven kids was not easy;
  • Graduating from an inner city of Baltimore high school was not easy;
  • Being the first in my family to graduate high school was not easy;
  • Being the first in my family to graduate from college was not easy;
  • Serving eight years in the army was not easy;
  • Raising six kids, who are now ages 22 to 31, was not easy;
  • Working my way up from production floor to president was not easy.

I am proof that by following my intuition, and being a man of faith, all things are possible.
Many of you know the story of David and Goliath. David, the Shepherd Boy who battled a giant with nothing more than rocks and a slingshot. To be more specific, he used one rock.

What many people may not know is that when he went down to the stream to pick up stones for his sling shot, he picked up five smooth stones, not just one. If I had to guess, he wanted to make sure that if that first stone failed, he had a plan B. I know I usually have a plan B.

You have already proven that you are a giant slayer by using your first stone to graduate.  But what will you do next? What will you do with the other four stones still in your pocket? Will you let them sit there and allow challenges to defeat you, or will you use your stones to defeat challenges?

If I can offer any advice, it is to use those stones just like I did to reach your undeniable potential.

  1. Graduate! While this year’s graduation does not look like traditional graduations, you STILL have gone the distance and achieved an important milestone. Congratulations!
  2. Dream Big! Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: "Don’t be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams. You must dream big and be fearless in your life, your liberty and your pursuit of happiness."
  3. Set goals! Dreams with no goals are just dreams. Set goals each week; weekly goals each month; and monthly goals until you become exactly who you want to be – until you achieve YOUR dreams. You will run into road blocks with family, friends, relationships, jobs and perhaps even self-doubt. You must fight to persevere and stay the course. Most importantly, trust your intuition to make your dreams come true. Remember, sometimes you must do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.
  4. Be a risk taker! Taking risks or not, you will fail. It may be a small failure, or you may hit rock bottom. It’s not about the failure, but what you do with it that counts. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever, shot 49% from the field, which means he missed more shots than he made. But he wanted to have the ball in his hands all the time so he could take another shot at greatness. One of my favorite quotes from MJ is, “Some people want things to happen; Some wish it would happen and others make it happen.”  You must have the same approach. Don’t settle for average. Do what 99% of the population is not doing. Be creative. Be challenging. Be courageous. Take the risk!
  5. Have the right attitude! I truly believe that attitude is the engine for success because your attitude can make you kick ass, be an ass or be an asset. Your attitude can shift the tide for you as a person and for your future company. People like to be around positive people. You will soon discover that you can get more out of life with a positive attitude than anything else in your career. Most companies today are looking for hard workers with critical thinking skills, great attitudes and a desire to make a change!
A Special Thanks During These Difficult Times
To the Educators and Stakeholders,

We would like to thank you for your leadership and support to Mississippi families and communities. We appreciate your time, countless dedication, and commitment in breaking barriers and pushing through obstacles to help our youth be better prepared for the future and obtain success in their endeavors. Through it all, natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, you have been an anchor and pillar of our community. We salute you, one of our many heroes, in a time of uncertainty. 

Vickie Powell, IOM
Senior Vice President, Foundations
Mississippi Economic Council
Spotlight: Canton High School Seniors
Jamichael Branch is an honor roll senior at Canton High School, where he is enrolled in dual enrollment courses with Holmes Community College and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. While attending Canton schools, he has received numerous high average awards. The scholar made a 30 on the American College Test (ACT). As a junior, he scored platinum on ACT's WorkKeys tests for a National Career Readiness Certificate. Last semester he served as an intern with Nissan. Until this year, he played soccer and tennis. He has completed two years in the engineering class at Canton Career Center, where he participated in Nissan's Student Technology Exchange Program (S.T.E.P.). This year he is taking the Career Pathway Experience class, a work program which allows him to volunteer with Canton's library system. He is currently serving as President of the Student Government Association (SGA) and is a member of the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) leadership organization. In the future he desires employment with Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Jamichael was also selected as Canton High School STAR Student 2020. Ras Bayles was selected as his STAR Teacher.  
TyReece Estes is an honor student at Canton High School, where he is taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes as well as Holmes Community College's dual enrollment classes. Currently, he serves as the senior class treasurer. He is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) leadership organization. Active in soccer and tennis, he was selected as the Most Valuable Player for tennis last year and serves as captain of the team this year. He serves on the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council (SSAC). He completed two years in the Engineering class at Canton Career Center, where he participated in Nissan's Student Technology Exchange Program (S.T.E.P.). As a junior, he scored 24 on the ACT and scored platinum on ACT's WorkKeys tests for a National Career Readiness Certificate. Last semester he completed an internship with Nissan. For the fall semester he plans to attend the University of Southern Mississippi to major in multimedia art.
Around the State
Spotlight: Sheila Hennis, Association for Excellence in Education Coordinator, Mississippi Scholars and Tech Master Jones County
I am Sheila Hennis, the coordinator for the Association for Excellence in Education (AEE) in the Laurel/Jones County area. AEE is the proud sponsor of the MS Scholar and Tech Master Scholar programs for our four area high schools. 

One of the features AEE does each month to promote the scholar program is to recognize a student from each high school as our “AEE Student of the Month”. We select a senior that will graduate as either a MS Scholar or Tech Master Scholar from Laurel High School, Northeast Jones High School, South Jones High School and West Jones High School to be featured on our Facebook page along with an image of their senior portrait. Also, AEE started “Where Are They Now”. This recognizes former scholar graduates who have completed their education and are now in the workforce. It is a great way to let people know what these former students are doing in their careers. These former scholars have ranged from doctors, lawyers, bankers, educators and more. AEE also sponsors an ACT Workshop for junior and senior scholars. Our focus is to help these students obtain the needed ACT score to qualify for the scholar program. 

In April, AEE hosted a closing program where all the scholar students come together to get their medallions and certificates. In the past, we have had guest speakers to challenge the graduates to continue their education and work for their dreams. Former Southern Miss football player and now missionary Luke Johnson spoke about his hard work as a Golden Eagle football walk-on to earn a scholarship to play and after graduation answer the call to be in the mission field. Akeem Davis, a former MS Scholar graduate from Laurel High School, spoke about how his hard work paid off to allow him to play in the NFL and now become a college football coach. Last year, Brittany Pickering, one of the few females who own a free-standing Chick-fil-A shared her story of how she was always told no, or she could not do the job. Now, her store is one of the fastest growing in the company.  

Unfortunately, this year we will not be able to have a ceremony but hopefully next school year we will, and I have another great speaker lined up. I believe you must challenge these students today, but you have to show them success stories do exist and these success stories are former students that have walked the same hallways in the schools that they are walking in today. All our speakers have been a graduate of one of our Laurel/Jones County high schools.

Coming from a family of educators, I love working with these young people because they are our future. I’m a graduate of West Jones High School and the University of Southern Mississippi. A life member of the Junior Auxiliary of Laurel, my husband and I have one son who will graduate from Jones College in May and attend MS State University in the fall as a landscape architect major.  
Spotlight: Presenters James Luckett & Ricky Sharp
James Luckett, Walmart private fleet driver for 33 years, and Ricky Sharp , Walmart Fleet driver for 15 years, talked to students about career opportunities.  
Greenville Mayor Erick Simmons Visits Students
at Mississippi Delta P2P
“Delta P2P is one of the greatest workforce development and youth development programs in the delta. Mississippi Scholars is a going to college and workforce development program that has changed the face of higher education in Mississippi."
- Greenville Mayor Erick Simmons
What is the Public Education Forum (PEF)?

The Public Education Forum is a non-profit, non-partisan education policy research group created by a broad cross-section of business, education and political leaders in Mississippi. Founded in 1989, the Forum is committed to being the leading independent force for public education in the state.

The mission of the Public Education Forum is "Committed to Excellence in Mississippi's Public Schools."  
Benefits for Students of Mississippi Scholars and 
Mississippi Scholars Tech Master Programs 
  1. Medallion for each program
  2. Certificate for each program
  3. Preference given in the hiring process for Mississippi Scholars Tech Master (Ingalls Shipbuilding, Sanderson Farms, United Furniture)
  4. Designation on high school transcript and high school diploma for each program
  5. Give back through community service for each program

The ultimate goal is not only to produce a more tech-savy young workforce, but also to foster well-rounded, civic-minded individuals who are job or college ready. MEC encourages communities to partner with their local businesses to offer college scholarships and incentives for Tech Master graduates.
Medallion that is given to
Mississippi Scholars Graduates.
Medallion that is given to
Mississippi Scholars Tech Master Graduates.
It pays to get students workforce ready! Here's how: With the new "Success is a Cycle, Are YOU In?" program from Mississippi Scholars, Mississippi Scholars Tech Master, and Get on the Grid! The powerpoint is available at  and on  YouTube.
Learn more about Mississippi's most in-demand careers at
Get started today!

For more information on how to get involved with Mississippi Scholars or Tech Master, contact Vickie Powell, Senior Vice President of Foundations.
Public Education Forum of Mississippi
Mississippi Scholars/Mississippi Scholars Tech Master
248 E. Capitol Street, Suite 940 - Jackson, Mississippi 39201
P.O. Box 23276 - Jackson, Mississippi 39225-3276
Phone: 601-969-0022 - 1-800-748-7626
Fax: 601-353-0247 - 1-888-717-2809
Click Here  for PEF Website