On October 14, 2021, Thomas K. Hudson, J.D., was surrounded by hundreds of family and friends; alumni and students; members of the Board of Trustees, politicians and supporters of Jackson State University – as he was formally installed as president. During his investiture ceremony on Gibbs-Green Plaza, President Hudson sought to reinforce his personal connection to Jackson State as he swore to uphold the responsibilities of his office.
With his wife, Phylandria, seated on the podium with him, and his mother, Mary, seated in the audience in front of him, President Hudson explained how the university has played a prominent role throughout his life – from childhood to adulthood.
“My life started just a few short blocks from here, on Arbor Vista,” he said, “the same year of [JSU’s] centennial celebration.”
In his speech, President Hudson talked about his first exposure to a Jackson State University education came when he was a toddler accompanying his mother to her classes. She had reenrolled at JSU in order to finish her degree, and received permission from her professors to lay on a mat so she could bring her youngest child with her.
President Hudson would go onto graduate from Jackson State University in 1999 and received a law degree from the University of Mississippi. After a career in government and private practice, it was his wife who encouraged him to return to his alma mater to begin a new phase of his career in education. “I’m only at JSU because of her,” he said.
For President Hudson, the honor and privilege of serving as president of Jackson State is heightened because of his alumni status.
“I am but one of 50,000 JSU alumni graduates who helped advance our global society through contributions to public service, science, medicine, technology, the military, sports, religion and the creative arts. It is with great humility and pride that I accept [this] responsibility,” President Hudson said. “This great institution is never about one individual. I am just the link in the chain, my role merely part of the continuum that stretches from our origins in 1877 to beyond.”
As an alumnus, President Hudson displayed his intimate knowledge of Jackson State’s history and conveyed how he draws inspiration from the institution’s past to propel it forward into the future. During the Great Depression, he explained that Jackson State found itself in a fight for its very existence when the founders withdrew their support. Where many institutions under similar circumstances shuttered their doors, Jackson State worked hard to become a state-sponsored institution and position itself to not only survive, but thrive and fulfill its mission.
“For 144 years, Jackson State University has been a charging station for many. I see it daily in our wonderful students who are excited about learning as they plot out their future careers. I see that with our amazing faculty and staff,” President Hudson said. “[Jackson State is] about elevation. The idea of rising above circumstances and conditions to fulfill its potential and reach a destiny that has already been predetermined for success.”
Considering the difficulties JSU has endured over the past few years since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, President Hudson said he often reflects on the university’s story in steering the institution through an often tumultuous present.
“I’m happy to report that after many years of monitoring, austerity and fiscal responsibility, our financial position is better than it has been in many, many years. … That allows us to think bigger, dream bigger and move away from budget cuts to budget investment,” President Hudson said. “Our strength as a university has been tested time and time again. We have faced numerous trials and tribulations. Yet each time we have met the moment, met the challenge. We remain JSU strong.”
Notable speakers throughout the ceremony touted President Hudson’s credentials as well as his deep bonds to the university and the local community.
“Your president is a visionary,” said the Honorable Bennie G. Thompson, representative for Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district. “I bring you greetings from Joe Biden, the president of the United States. He has made clear his notion that historically Black colleges are so important, and that’s why Jackson State is ranked as one of the best historically Black colleges in America. And that’s why we have in our new leader somebody who will put us no. 1 on that list.”
Phillip Gunn, speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, touted President Hudson’s thorough understanding of the institution’s needs given his background as a local Jacksonian, an alumnus, as well as a JSU faculty and staff member. “Jackson State needs a leader who has … passion about this university. Today we celebrate that man. He is one of our own. He knows what Jackson state means to this town and to this state. He literally has a home-grown love for this school. He is the complete package.”
Earlexia Norwood, M.D., president of the JSU National Alumni Association, Inc., expressed that President Hudson has the backing of the alumni community. “We honor and celebrate you today because being in this elite group with president emeritus Dr. John A. Peoples Jr. as only the second alumnus to ascend to the office of president, President Hudson, your alumni body and I say to you today, ‘If God is with us, who could be against us.’”
Edward Bell Jr., Ph.D., who attended Jackson State with President Hudson and has been his friend for 30 years, spoke about how the institution has been formative to their development. “It is auspicious that President Hudson is a Jacksonian in every way, in every sense of the word. He knows the surrounding community. He understands its people. Most importantly, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of and reverence for the history of this university. Simply put, he is true blue. I look forward to President Hudson guiding this institution to yet another golden age of achievement and prosperity.”
Alfred Rankins, Ph.D., commissioner of the Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, helped administer the Oath of Office. “President Hudson, you have the hopes and dreams of many on your shoulders,” he said. “We charge you to serve the University with good stewardship, to protect and defend the University, and to build the University to new heights.”
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