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Centennial Lecture ignites Inauguration Week at Delta State University

By February 20, 2024President
Delta State’s ninth president, Dr. Daniel J. Ennis, (at podium) was joined by (from left) Dr. Rose Strahan, Mississippi Transportation Commissioner for the Central District Willie Simmons, and Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell to mark the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the legislation that led to DSU’s creation.

CLEVELAND, Miss. — Delta State University kicked off a week of events leading up to the inauguration of its ninth president, Dr. Daniel J. Ennis, with a Centennial Lecture on Monday, February 19 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the introduction of the legislation that led to the school’s creation. Given that February 19 was also the national observance of Presidents Day, the federal holiday devoted to honoring our nation’s presidents, the Centennial Lecture recognized the previous Delta State presidents and their enduring impact on the university through the years. The investiture ceremony to officially inaugurate Ennis as Delta State’s ninth president will be held on Saturday, February 24 at 10:30 a.m. at the Bologna Performing Arts Center.

Chair Emeritus of the Department of Mathematics and Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Dr. Rose Strahan welcomed guests to the lecture, calling attention to the coincidence that the 100th anniversary of the legislation fell on Presidents Day, saying, “These two significant facts bring us together today to celebrate both Delta State’s history and future as we look forward to Dr. Ennis’ inauguration on Saturday.”

She then introduced Mississippi Transportation Commissioner for the Central District Willie Simmons who said, “As a graduate of Delta State University, twice, and having served as a visiting professor, it is an honor to be included in the program.”

Simmons related the history of the legislation, detailing the disagreements and narrow votes that led to Delta State Teachers College being located in Cleveland. He pointed out that the founders of the college faced an uphill battle to place a college in the Mississippi Delta in 1924, but that they persevered, and that fighting spirit is still evident on the Delta State campus today.

Strahan then introduced Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell. A 1972 graduate of DSU, Nowell served on the Delta State University Foundation board for over 20 years. He said, “The town was only 38 years old when it was designated as the location for a college. Our forefathers must have been way ahead of their time. Cleveland only had 1620 citizens at the time.”

Nowell spoke about living his life immersed in the connections between the university and the Cleveland community and pledged the community’s ongoing support of DSU. He said, “I can assure you that Cleveland is ready and willing to make Delta State and Cleveland bigger and better than ever.”

Strahan then spoke about the eight previous presidents of Delta State, noting the growth of the university that occurred under each one. Each made enduring contributions to the institution, and the stage was lined with banners for each president that listed their most notable achievements. Strahan said, “We’ve looked at the past, now let’s focus on the future as we welcome the 9th president of Delta State University, Dr. Daniel J. Ennis.”

Ennis spoke of his respect for the former presidents of Delta State, saying, “Through their labor, through their inspiration, and through their dedication, they made sure that this place was welcoming while they were here, and welcoming after they were gone. And as the years went by, this place expanded its welcome.”

The theme of Inauguration Week is “Lighting the Way,” and Ennis related his vision for Delta State as a beacon of light in the Mississippi Delta, saying, “The leaders of this university, and not just the presidents, but all the faculty and staff and community members who stepped forward and tried to serve the students…they had to work in the dark. They had to step out into a dim space and grope their way forward, as we do in a darkened room during a power outage, hands outstretched, trying not to stumble. They didn’t know Delta State would last a century. Some might have wondered if it would last a decade.”

Ennis then spoke to the university’s responsibility to future generations. He said, “If you ask me to talk about lighting the way, I’m going to tell you that the greatest achievement within our grasp is to do what is necessary to keep the light on for the students now in high school wanting to come here for college, for the students in middle school a decade away from higher education, and for even younger students who don’t even know what college is. Indeed, we are responsible to students not yet even born. Students of 2024, 2034, 2044, and for as far as the horizon extends – we’ll keep the light on for you.”

Following Ennis’ remarks, Ruby Anne Kincaid, ’56, ’79, led the assembly in singing Delta State’s Alma Mater, and a reception was held for attendees in the Kossman Suite.

For more information about the events of Inauguration Week, including a complete schedule of events and travel and accommodation information, visit