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World Language Concert Spread Holiday Cheer in Six Languages

By Mariat Thankachan

The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science is unique in the fact that five foreign language classes are offered for study: Latin, German, French, Spanish and Russian. These classes celebrated the holiday customs of their respective cultures by showcasing a student-led World Language Holiday Concert on December 6. 

Margaret Henry, Russian and Spanish instructor, explains the history of the concert. 

“I think we have been doing the concert since 2010. We did the first performance as part of a holiday concert with Ms. Dawn Barham and the choir. When I first started, I wasn’t teaching Russian so in the beginning we had Latin, French, Spanish and German. Then it expanded to Russian when I started teaching it in 2012, then this year it expanded to include Finnish, making it six languages,” Henry revealed.  

The concert marked the first public performance of the new-found Finnish Club. Senior Leah Pettit, one of the founders of the club, describes how the club was established and its preparation methods for the concert. 

“You know that thing your friend mentioned jokingly, and you said yes, we should do that?  Yeah, me too. Only sometimes I’m serious.  And that’s how Finnish Club came to be.  William said something about Finnish being the only Nordic language that wasn’t like any of the others, and it just kind of escalated from there.  The name came up because William and I had just been talking to Dr. Benge about the Linear Algebra Class, and we were asking Gary if he wanted to take it. Then we asked if he wanted to learn Finnish and he said sure.  When Hamilton had a similar response, I jokingly said that we should form a Linear Algebra Study Group for the Linear Algebra Class, but use that time to learn Finnish.”

With only eight members, the team had to ensure that their presence was noticed and memorable in the concert through diligent practice. 

“Preparing for this concert was a little tricky.  Most languages have three hours a week to work on their activities. We have 1. Most students have some understanding of the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of their language. We didn’t. Most languages have a teacher who knows the language. We have a couple of kids with internet and free time. Top that off with the first word of our first song having three different ‘u’ sounds, and the odds are completely stacked against us.  However, we also had dedication where others had apathy, so we practiced.  When we realized we were too quiet, we spread out. We stood across the road from one another outside of Hooper and down the sidewalk and sang until we could be heard. I am still amazed that eight students who had barely any knowledge of a language had agreed to sing in it in front of an audience. Even though we had problems with Silent Night and we didn’t quite know all the words to ‘Joulukirkkoon,’ they kept calm and stuck it out. They didn’t back out in practices when we realized how few of us there were or how little the song repeated itself, and they didn’t back down at the concert either,” Pettit added. 

The audience was taken aback by the Finnish Club’s public declaration of independence from the Russian Club. 

“When we introduced ourselves with the on-this-day-in-history deal, I think some people started to get very confused.  I don’t know if they were expecting us to sing the Finnish National Anthem (no way, that was written in Swedish!) or what, but I don’t think anyone was expecting us to declare our independence from Russian Club, so when we did, they all looked at each other like, ‘No way, is this real?’ Then Olga declared us an independent club, and we experienced true freedom for the first time,” Pettit explained the scene. 

The other world languages also displayed determined effort and enthusiasm into their performances. Traditional songs such as “Oh Tannenbaum” by German, “Feliz Navidad” by Spanish, and  “Adeste Fidelis” by Latin cheering in togas were sung while the Russian students performed in kokoshnik and sarafan attire bought by Henry from Russia. All six languages also harmonized together as they sang “Silent Night” in their respective languages.      

Senior Jackson Sparkman sang as a part of Spanish II Class. Sparkman describes the importance of the language concert. 

“I sang Feliz Navidad. I think the concert is important because Mississippi is emerging as a world leader. It’s already the most diverse state in the union, so I believe that the more that we celebrate the different cultures that make Mississippi, the more that we’re emerging as a leader in the nation. I sang the song last year, which was a whole lot of fun. I think it’s important that we’re celebrating different cultures because so often we focus on culture wars, where we focus on the differences between us and I believe that by having a song like Feliz Navidad, which is something so apparent in American culture, I think we’re highlighting this cross culture between Spanish and English in the holiday spirit,” Sparkman said. 

Junior Danail Dimitrov committed to compose a piano arrangement of “Carol of the Bells,” which he performed with senior Aidan Dunkelberg on the violin. 

“I enjoyed the concert and I was very excited to see my classmates perform, especially since for some, it was their first time on stage. For my piano piece, I thought how it snows a lot in my home country, and I wanted to make a song that reminds me of the snow,” Dimitrov expressed. 

The World Language Holiday Concert not only highlights the musical and distinctive language talent at MSMS, it provides feelings of solidarity and joy while students display the beauty of foreign music and cultural customs they have learned throughout the year.

Julia MorrisonComment
MSMS Senior Sydney Matrisciano to Compete in the International Olympiada of Spoken Russian
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A Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS) senior will represent the United States in an international competition among students of Russian next month.

Sydney Matrisciano, 17, daughter of Suzanne and Louis Matrisciano of Winona, is among six American high school students selected for the U.S. team competing at this year’s International Olympiada of Spoken Russian in Moscow December 4-8. Matrisciano became eligible to vie for a spot on the team after winning a gold medal in the regional competition held in April at Rhodes College in Memphis. 

“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous!” Matrisciano said. “It's definitely a lot of pressure, but I'm so honored by this opportunity to represent America, particularly the American South, on an international level.”

The 150 contestants at Moscow’s Pushkin Institute will be competing for gold, silver and bronze medals that reward proficiency in Russian conversation, recitation of Russian poetry by heart, and knowledge of Russian civilization. Matrisciano, a student of MSMS world language teacher Margaret Mary Henry, and her teammates will be traveling under the auspices of the American Council of Teachers of Russian. 

This is not the first Russian honor for Matrisciano. In her junior year she won a $7,000 scholarship to study in the former Soviet Union under the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a program that sends high school students abroad to study Russian and six other languages that the federal government deems critical to U.S. political and economic interests. For six weeks last summer, she attended intensive Russian classes at the Ion Creangă Pedagogical State University in Chisinau, Moldova and lived with a Russian-speaking host family.

Matrisciano said she decided to study Russian because it was exotic and ended up falling in love with the intricate language. “Russian is an exercise in complex thought,” she said. 

The student aspires to a career in the U.S. Foreign Service as a public diplomacy officer. “I often think of Moldova as the litmus test for my dreams of being a diplomat,” she reflected. “It was sort of like job shadowing, in a sense, in that I was often the only American in the room. I was also often the first American many people had ever met. This gave me a ton of practice representing America well and talking around controversial issues – like the debate surrounding our recently elected president.”

Matrisciano was recently named a finalist in the QuestBridge scholarship program, which matches outstanding students with partner universities. She is now awaiting word on which university she will be matched with. “It's a little funny – the day I fly to Russia is the day the finalist match results are released. I'll theoretically know as soon as I step off the plane. I'm hoping to be matched with the University of Notre Dame. I'll double major in Russian studies and political science.”

Matrisciano has been involved in many extra-curricular pursuits at MSMS, serving, for example, as president of the Catholic Club, secretary for the school’s chapter of the Mississippi Model Security Council, and as a captain for the MSMS soccer team, on which she plays left striker and right wing.

MSMS, located on the campus of Mississippi University for Women, offered Russian briefly in past decades and began offering the Slavic language again in 2012. It is the only high school in the state that teaches Russian.

Julia MorrisonComment
Dr. Charles Vaughan Published in The Astronomical Journal
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Congratulations to Dr. Charles Vaughan on being published in the most recent volume of The Astronomical Journal. Dr. Vaughan graduated from Mississippi State University in 2015 with a Ph.D. in Applied Physics. His dissertation focused on the gaseous coma of the Hartley 2 comet. Hartley 2 is an active comet that was visited a few years ago by NASA in an unmanned space flyby mission. Dr. Vaughan’s research on Hartley 2 was published in an article entitled Jet Morphology and Coma Analysis of Comet 103P in the November edition of The Astronomical Journal. 

Julia MorrisonComment
2017 Sites & Sounds Tour
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From The Vision, the MSMS Student Newspaper by Keely Brewer

The MSMS Blue Notes set out on their annual Sites and Sounds tour last Thursday, Nov. 9, and returned to Columbus Sunday evening after an exciting and successful trip.

Sites and Sounds is an annual event, led by music teacher Dawn Barham, that travels throughout the state of Mississippi putting on musical performances, alternating between two different routes each year.

“This year we went to the coast, so next year we’re going to go the Delta. We have a kickoff performance in Columbus the week before we leave, to fundraise. Then we spend a weekend in our location, performing and taking in the culture,” Edith Marie Green shared. “This year, we went to the coast. We spent a day in New Orleans, and then we hung out in Biloxi. Our home base was in Biloxi and was literally a walk across the street to the beach.”

“We performed in Biloxi at the Veterans Day Parade and at the First United Methodist Church in Poplarville,” Indu Nandula shared.

For an MSMS student to be involved in Sites and Sounds, they must take either Instrumental Performance or Choral Performance.

Green stated, “We start learning our music at the very beginning of the year. A few weeks before our first performance, we start having rehearsals during tutorials with both the band and choir since we’ll be performing together. Once the music is down, we work on crew and rooming lists so we’re prepared for travel.”

The students work together to select the pieces that will be played during the performances.

“The only stipulation is that it has to be tied back to Mississippi somehow,” shared Anna Grace Dulaney, on how students choose certain pieces.

Sites and Sounds is an incredible opportunity for its participants to experience new types of music, collaborate with other students, and perform in front of different and exciting audiences.

Green shared her most memorable experience from the trip.

“We did an African drumming circle in New Orleans, and everyone was dancing, singing and beating on drums. It was really fun and cleansing to just gather together and make music.” She added that “Performing at the Veteran’s Day parade was also really fun, because from the stage I could see adults singing and little kids dancing and it was great to bring joy into people’s lives like that.”

Nandula echoed Green’s opinion, saying, “My favorite part of the trip was probably New Orleans, specifically when we went to Armstrong Park where we learned about traditional African drumming and dancing. Working together in harmony to celebrate a culture that was unknown to us brought many of us together as both classmates and a family, and it was really fun and beautiful to see.”

Students who participated voiced their appreciation for the experience that the trip provided them.

“I would definitely do Sites and Sounds again. Spreading the love and joy of music is really important in this world because it brings a people together in a way that nothing else can,” Nandula said.

Julia MorrisonComment
No Lost Generation Refugee Camp Simulation Comes to MSMS
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The MSMS Forgotten Stories Club, in collaboration with The W Leadership Program, hosted a refugee tent simulation exhibit on Wednesday, November 8. The event was led by Mississippi State University’s chapter of No Lost Generation. No Lost Generation is a student-led organization aimed at mobilizing students to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis and is supported by the Department of State. Roughly fifty colleges and universities across the United States have joined the No Lost Generation student initiative to draw attention and resources to support humanitarian crises in Syria and around the world. 

On Wednesday, the MSMS community had the opportunity to experience a refugee tent simulation, which included a sample refugee tent, food and water displays, and virtual reality goggles showing a school in Syria. Students were also given a small card with a biography of a real refugee that detailed that individual’s experience with displacement. Guides from No Lost Generation asked students to walk through the exhibit from the perspective of the person whose card they received. 

Through tent simulations like this one, No Lost Generation chapters advocate for, “an entire generation of children that is being shaped by violence, displacement, and a persistent lack of opportunity.” The organization focuses on expanding access to learning opportunities, providing psychosocial supports and resources, strengthening peacebuilding efforts, and restoring a sense of hope in those impacted. 

For a more detailed look at the event and the impact it had on MSMS students, check out this great article in the Columbus Commercial Dispatch entitled, “’No Lost Generation’: Traveling Exhibit Aims to Raise Awareness, Empathy for Syrian Refugees”: http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=61917.

Julia MorrisonComment