By STEVEN NALLEY
When John Cohen was at Mississippi State University, he had the opportunity to see Eudora Welty at a campus venue, but he missed it.
Cohen, now baseball coach at MSU, said he regrets the decision. At the time, he said, he didn’t think going to see an author, even a Pulitzer Prize winner like Welty, was “cool.”
“Here’s what I tell my daughters all the time,” Cohen said: “’Cool’ is the enemy. ‘Cool’ doesn’t get you where you want to go in life. What gets you where you want to go in life is taking advantage of every opportunity.”
This advice was part of Cohen’s address at the Oktibbeha County Chapter of the MSU Alumni Association’s annual MSU Send-Off Party Tuesday on Davis-Wade Stadium’s Club Level.
Donna Rupp, county chapter president, said she was extremely pleased with the turnout from students. Nearly every alumni chapter across Mississippi and other states has held a send-off party for each of the last seven years for incoming MSU freshmen leaving the chapter’s area, she said.
“It’s really just a way for alumni, incoming students and their parents and friends to gather together and officially send them off to college,” Rupp said. “It’s a way of starting their new life as a Bulldog. I will say, because this is in Starkville, a lot of people who grew up here probably think they know everything about campus, but there’s a lot of opportunities as (students) they may not know about.”
Shelley Pensworth, admissions counselor at MSU, said she encourages students to become involved in at least one organization outside their academic major. She said several Oktibbeha students in the room might know each other from high school, but there are more than 20,000 students at MSU, creating many opportunities to make new friends.
“That’s an easy way to make that 20,000 feel a lot smaller,” Pensworth said. “You’re about to join people from all 82 Mississippi counties, all 49 other states and several foreign countries.”
The first 10 students at the event received cowbells, and MSU Student Health Center Director Robert Cadenhead gave everyone a reminder about ringing them responsibly, complying with NCAA rules at athletic events. Cadenhead then led the winners in ringing their cowbells together.
Rupp said, “If the bell-ringing was any indication of the students’ enthusiasm, we’re going to have another great year.”
Cadenhead found a different measure of the send-off’s success in the t-shirts the chapter gave away and barbecue the chapter fed the students.
“We ran out of plates and T-shirts,” Cadenhead said.
Jimmy Abraham, associate vice president and executive director of alumni activities, said other chapters’ send-offs were also succeeding across the state and country.
“We have had a great turnout of incoming students and their parents attending these send-off parties,” Abraham said. “Everyone who attends is so grateful to the alumni and friends of Mississippi State from their area who not only organize these parties, but are there to help students enrolling in whatever way possible.”
One of the students in attendance at the Oktibbeha send-off was Ryan Lawrence, valedictorian at Starkville Christian School. He said it was good to know how excited MSU alumni are to have them as students. He said he had opportunities to attend other schools, but MSU has always felt like home to him.
“I was definitely reminded to take advantage of every opportunity,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been trying to get in that mindset. You only go to college once.”
Another attendee, Veronica Leach, was home-schooled, but she said she knew about half of the students in the room, and she saw the send-off as a reunion of sorts.
“It was really cool,” Leach said. “I like that it just brought us together one last time.”
Leach said she is also looking forward to meeting new people and having new experiences.
“It’s such a big campus,” Leach said. “It’s got so many people, but from what I’ve heard it feels so small, because you’re really connected to everybody.”