An indelible impact
About two years ago Murrah High School graduate and management consultant Rod Taylor found himself back in Jackson with some time to kill. He was in the neighborhood of the high school which he attended until 1968, and thought he’d stop by for a visit. After walking through unfamiliar metal detectors and being greeted by police officers, Taylor made his way down the hall to the principal’s office where the picture of his late friend, Dave Cannada, still hung on the wall.
Taylor introduced himself to principal Dr. Freddrick Murray and told him about Cannada, who had been diagnosed with terminal leukemia his junior year. He was student body president, valedictorian and a great athlete, but, most importantly, Taylor said, an inspirational spiritual leader.
Taylor and Murray discussed a way in which Murrah alumni could give back to their school in Cannada’s honor, and the Dave Cannada Mentor Program was eventually born. Now in its second year, alumni who are professionals in medicine, law, banking, education, accounting, business and other disciplines come back to talk to students about vocational opportunities and the importance of higher education.
Murray said the mentoring program is “outstanding for our students and helps them gain exposure to different careers. It helps to focus our students.” Hearing about careers from professionals active in various fields “makes it more meaningful because these people sat where (students) are sitting,” he said.
Murrah High School comprises almost 1,400 students in ninth through 12th grades, many of whom come from Title I, or low-income, backgrounds, Murray said. Financial contributions are great, but time spent encouraging students to get an education is equally as important if not more so, he said.
Bill Reed, an alumnus and a shareholder and former president of Baker Donelson law firm, along with Craig Robinson, executive vice president and regional executive of State Bank & Trust in Jackson, have become administrators for the program and work to find volunteers.
Murrah is interested in lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, small business people, bankers, insurance professionals, Realtors, coaches, law enforcement professionals, architects, construction professionals, musicians and sports management professionals who are willing to talk about educational experiences that led to their careers.
Reed, who spoke to students last year, said that might have been the first time he has talked to high school students since he was in high school. But it went well. Students were “for most part, very attentive and interested and asked questions about how to prepare academically,” he said.
Reed reminds program mentors that whatever students will end up doing, “they’re still a long way from doing it. They’ve got to finish high school. They’ve got to finish undergrad. For a lot of these careers they’ve got to finish some sort of graduate school. You’re really just trying to tell them how to build a foundation. The truth is they’ll probably all change their minds 10 times before they get there, just like we all did.”
Mentors speak to individual classes studying subjects relevant to their professions. Examples are a doctor being paired with an anatomy and physiology class or a nurse being matched with an advanced biology course.
“I’m just happy these former students, who could be doing a lot of other things, who have taken an interest,” Murray said. “Many of them don’t look like the children, and that’s a great thing. It’s about them caring about the children of this community.”
At a recent mentoring session in a science technology class Julie Hines Mabus, a 1970 Murrah graduate who now teaches at a New Orleans girls’ school, talked about the importance of education and learning to get along with different types of people.
Hines Mabus recounted her final year at Murrah as more African-Americans entered a predominantly white school: “It opened my eyes as to how sheltered I’d been. I learned more about life then than I did my whole time at Murrah.”
“You’re not going to be a very effective human being if you don’t get out of a homogenous world. The only way you’re going to get there is through education. Because the more educated you are, the more color blind your audience is going to be,” she said.
Student Tyrone McDonald said he learned that “There is another world out there for us … Education is a way we can step out of our world and transfer to a new one.”
McDonald also echoed the sentiments of Cannada when he said the purpose of life was to “press on to the high calling of God.”
Ric Cannada, Dave Cannada’s older brother and part of Murrah’s class of 1966, is happy that his brother’s memory is being honored with the mentor program. He is chancellor and CEO of Jackson-based Reformed Theological Seminary, a seminary for the Presbyterian Church in America that has campuses in several states.
“After over 40 years it’s a joy and a privilege to think that (Dave) is still being a blessing to many people. He certainly loved Murrah High School. It was really through his illness and his life and testimony that he affected a lot of people,” Cannada said.