Members of the WestStar Leadership Program’s class of 2019 graduated Tuesday, June 25, during WestStar’s closing event held at Madison Downs Venue in Jackson. A 5:15 p.m. reception was followed by dinner and the graduation ceremony. WestStar is the University of Tennessee at Martin’s regional leadership program that is supported by corporate sponsors and individual donors.
This marked the program’s 30th class and brings the total to 857 graduates since WestStar was established in 1989. The 2019 class included 30 members who were competitively selected to learn new leadership skills and develop strategies for assisting communities in solving problems and maximizing potential. Each WestStar class is chosen annually by the program’s board of trustees. Selection is based on individual leadership achievements and potential to contribute to West Tennessee’s development. The class members, selected from all occupations and levels of community and regional involvement, complete eight sessions covering topics including agriculture and transportation, energy and environment, public policy issues, education and tourism.
Dr. Charley Deal, WestStar executive director, welcomed class members, alumni, the WestStar Board of Directors and other guests to the graduation event and ceremony. He also introduced UT Martin chancellor and 2009 WestStar graduate Keith Carver who welcomed attendees and noted the important work ahead for the program graduates.
“Tonight is all about you,” Carver said to the class. “You’re now (part of) this much larger WestStar family, and I think any time you come through something like this you think about what’s next. … So, I just want to tell our graduates that the journey is really just starting, and it’s time to invest back into WestStar but more importantly back into your communities and back into West Tennessee.”
Deal reviewed WestStar-sponsored conferences and youth activities held during the past year. He also announced three major awards presented annually during the program’s graduation and
WestStar’s most recent scholarship recipients:
- Erica Moore, of Dresden, communications director for Weakley County Government and executive assistant to Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum, received the 2019 Class Representative Award. Moore was selected by current class members to represent the class in future WestStar activities.
- Dr. Larry Lusk, of Dyersburg, director of the Dyer County School System, received the C.P. Boyd Leadership Award. The award, named for the late Haywood County community leader and educator Dr. C.P. Boyd, recognizes the person who best reflects compassion and leadership for West Tennessee, as selected by the WestStar class.
- Jai Templeton, McNairy County farmer and former Tennessee commissioner of agriculture, received the Jimmy Daniel Make-A-Difference WestStar Leadership Alumni Award. The award is named for the late Jimmy Daniel, a 1990 WestStar graduate, founding program trustee member and a field representative during the Gov. Don Sundquist administration. Recipients must be WestStar graduates who have had positive impacts in their city or county during the past five years and possess strong records of leadership in West Tennessee. Templeton completed the WestStar program in 1999.
- Morgan Sturgis, of Huntingdon, daughter of Joel and Amy Sturgis, received the RisingStar Leadership Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to students who attended WestStar’s RisingStar Leadership Program held for selected high school juniors and seniors each fall and who plan to attend UT Martin. Selections are made by a university committee.
- Mallory Shell, of Dyersburg, Tanner Ream, of Ripley, and Brennan Brown, of Martin, received the Nick Dunagan Leadership Scholarships. Shell is the stepdaughter of Tony Childress, WestStar Class of 2018, and the daughter of LeAnn Childress, WestStar Class of 2013. Ream is the son of David and Cindy Ream and the grandson of Donna Buckner, WestStar Class of 2002. Brennan is the daughter of Andrew (WestStar Class of 2001) and Amy Brown. These scholarships are named for Dr. Nick Dunagan, UT Martin chancellor emeritus and former WestStar executive director. Recipients are chosen by the WestStar Board of Trustees.
Following recognition of the graduates, Deal quoted President Ronald Reagan who said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He or she is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” He closed the event by challenging everyone present to make a positive difference in the region. “Let us all leave here tonight committed to making a positive impact in our community, influencing positive change in West Tennessee and inspiring the next generation of leaders to commit to making our state even better than it is today.”
The 2019 WestStar graduating class members and their hometowns are: Kayce Beam, Jackson; Skipper Bondurant, Union City; Joyce Brooks-Brown, Trenton; Reba Celsor, Dyersburg; Jim Cheatham, Dyersburg; Jenna Cole-Wilson, Camden; Al Da Silva, Memphis; Sybil Dancer, Selmer; Chris Davis, Brownsville; Amber Greene, Henderson; Justin Hargrove, Camden; Nichole Lawrence, McLemoresville; Dr. Larry Lusk, Dyersburg; Andrew Maddox, Huntingdon; Jason Martin, McKenzie; Travis McLeese, Paris; Civil Miller-Watkins, Somerville; Erica Moore, Dresden; LaShell Moore, Selmer; Sharron Murden, Bolivar; Paul Newbill, Dyersburg; Jeffrey Richmond, Brownsville; John Penn Ridgeway, Paris; Derick Seaton, Savannah; Lucianne Shoffner, Munford; Lori Weir, Jackson; Ron Wells, Millington; Bryce West, Trenton; Mark Woodruff, Counce; and Jamie Worrell, Union City. Jordan Gardner, WestStar staff member, was made an honorary member of the 2019 class.
Applications for the 2020 WestStar class are being accepted after Sept. 1, and members of the new class will be selected later this fall. WestStar’s 30th anniversary will be celebrated during an event Nov. 9 at Discovery Park in Union City. Find out more about WestStar at utm.edu or call 731-881-7298.