By M. Scott Morris
JACKSON – Northeast Mississippi students earned congratulations from royalty during a ceremony at the Mississippi Museum of Art on Friday.
About 90 students from Oxford, Lafayette and Water Valley high schools earned medals as part of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Young Americans' Challenge. More than 30 of the medalists attended the ceremony, where they received their awards from His Royal Highness, The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
“Today is all about your achievement,” the prince said. “We wouldn't be here otherwise.”
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award operates in more than 120 countries. It was started by Prince Edward's father 52 years ago. Participants submit their own goals, including academics, physical fitness and community service.
“It's very much about developing leadership skills,” he said. “It's very much about helping others.”
The award came to the United States two years ago, after the prince asked Amory native Sam Haskell III to serve as president of the American version.
“This is only the second state in the country to give the award,” said Haskell, who's known the prince for 14 years.
California was the first, and Haskell said he’s been contacted by organizations in Maryland, Georgia, Texas, Alaska, Florida and Virginia. Haskell also is chairman of the Miss America Organization, which will link with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and make it a nationwide program.
The awards ceremony included Gov. Haley Barbour and first lady Marsha Barbour, former Sen. Trent Lott and Gloria Kellum, vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi, as well as others who helped get the award started in Mississippi.
“It means so much to me that all of you have been so supportive of this dream of mine,” Haskell said.
Gov. Barbour, Lott and Prince Edward all mentioned how difficult it is to tell Haskell “no,” but the prince said he enjoyed the opportunity to turn the tables and asked Haskell to do something that he couldn't say “no” to.
In addition to the new medalists, there were at least two other award winners present. Prince Edward was one; he received his gold medal from his father, Prince Philip.
Albert Bisson, who teaches in the philosophy and religion department at Mississippi State University, received his medal from Prince Philip during a ceremony in Liverpool more than three decades ago.
“I was in the Boy's Brigade, similar to the Boy Scouts,” Bisson said, “I remember the prince flying in on a helicopter, and he piloted the helicopter. It was a big day.”
Duke of Edinburgh’s Young American’s Challenge 2007-2008
Lafayette High School Participants:
Adam Pugh, Principal, Lead Coordinator of the
Marvin Pearson, Guidance Counselor , Section Leader
Debbie Hewlett, Guidance Counselor, Section Leader
Ben Mikell, English, Section Leader
Mollie Kate McPhail
Oxford High School Participants:
Cynthia Ferguson, Journalism, Lead Coordinator of the International Award
Bradley Roberson, Section Coordinator
Kim Austin, Section Coordinator
Caroline Fair, Section Coordinator
Thomas Herrington, Section Coordinator
Mary Grace Turner
John Rodes Martin
Water Valley High School Bronze Award Participants:
Anna Koshenina, Lead Coordinator
Mario Weekly, Section Coordinator
Steve Ford, Section Coordinator
JoAnn King, Section Coordinator