Students come to MSMS, as the school is called, from all over the state. They live at the school, a free public-residential school, for their junior and senior years. The curriculum is intense in STEM courses and equally demanding in the arts and humanities.
The students certainly read the writers of Mississippi—William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wright to name a few. Such a heritage must both inspire the students and terrify them; how could they ever aspire to be real writers from Mississippi? They have two points in their favor. First, Mississippi is a state of powerfully rich (for better and worse) culture and history, with which they can connect their own lives. And second, they are dared and guided by their teachers to examine and write about their own lives in this context.
Here are two essays and one poem by current MSMS students.
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Connor McNamee is a senior from Florence, Mississippi, which is just south of the state’s capital, Jackson.
Momma’s boy. That’s what Daddy always used to call me when I didn’t act like the other boys. When I attracted looks in McRae’s for dancing and singing along to Britney Spears, he’d tell the gawkers, “What can you do? He’s just a momma’s boy.” When I’d cry, Daddy would say to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents, “He’s just a momma’s boy.” I never saw the bad in being called a momma’s boy; in fact, I took it as a badge of courage because I knew I was a momma’s boy. While the other boys were out in the woods learning to kill deer they’d never eat, I was learning how to make my great-great grandmother’s pecan pie recipe. When the other fathers were teaching their sons to play football, Momma would tell me to study and learn and read and be the best I could because she “wanted the best for momma’s little boy.” I took this advice and inspiration from my mother—as I have taken the advice and inspiration from many other women in my life.
When grade school was over the other boys decided to give me a new name: Sissy boy. This name followed me like a shadow through most of my time in high school. The other boys never saw me as the boy at the top of the class or the boy who always liked to smile. They just saw me as the boy who sat with girls at lunch and listened to pop music. The sissy boy. I couldn’t talk in class without being mimicked; I couldn’t walk the halls without being pushed. All I could do was what Momma had taught me to do all my life: Learn. I buried myself in my studies, aced all my classes with flying colors, and rose to the top of my class like cream on milk. Again, the most valuable lessons I learned during this part of my life did not come from my books, but instead from the women in my life. Through the lessons of Mrs. Holder and Mrs. Porter, my first science teachers, I discovered my love of science because it was able to show me a beauty in the world that I had previously not been able to see anything special in. Through the laughter of Emmie and Annie, the girls I sat with at lunch, I learned the value of making others and myself happy. Most importantly, through Kori Weaver, the girl who stood up in the middle of class and yelled at those making fun of the way I speak, I learned that no matter where I am in the world and how people tell me to be, I am worth something.
In my sophomore year I made the decision to leave my small, private Christian school and attend my junior and senior years at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. Momma accepted this decision with more than a grain of salt. She was finally “losing her baby boy” but she also knew this was the best way for me to pursue the love of knowledge and learning she had put in me since I was her little momma’s boy. The only person who took this decision harder than she did was the momma’s boy who had to leave her behind. What helped me make the decision easier was the classes I would be able to take, such as AP Chemistry, University Calculus, and Microbiology. Even though the classes were definitely difficult, I made Momma proud and excelled in all. By going to this new school I wanted, of course, to get the best possible education, but I got so much more. For once in my life I wasn’t renamed; I wasn’t momma’s boy, or sissy boy: I was Connor. My feminine mannerisms were no longer my defining trait; finally I was seen as the kid who does whatever he can to excel in academics and does whatever he can to see others happy.
This isn’t to say that I resent my name, because they are true. I am that momma’s boy who couldn’t stop crying when my favorite America’s Next Top Model contestant got eliminated and I am that sissy boy who listened to Lady Gaga and Britney Spears instead of Nickleback like the other boys, and I am Connor, the boy who loves who he is no matter what anybody has to say.
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