ALUMNUS Spring 2022 - Mississippi State University

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Back STORY WITH GADDIS HUNT Securing George H.W. Bush as commencement speaker for Mississippi State’s May 1989 graduation was an exciting feat. But how did we pull off an outdoor graduation featuring a sitting U.S. President? It took a lot of behind-the-scenes planning. As facilities use coordinator, I had a front row seat for the preparation and the opportunity to collaborate with remarkably talented people. A hundred White House staffers and Secret Service agents spent early May in Mississippi to coordinate with the graduation planning committee. Together they made a major decision: the ceremony, which was traditionally held indoors at Humphrey Coliseum, would take place at Davis Wade Stadium in anticipation of a much larger than normal crowd. We looked to friends of MSU for help in making everything possible. Peavey of Meridian supplied large speakers and equipment to drive the sound. Georgia Pacific of Louisville furnished lumber to build the stages. Area law enforcement agencies were called in to work with campus police and the Secret Service. The U.S. Navy Seabees from Gulfport constructed a path of aluminum matting to protect the football field’s irrigation from the 6-ton presidential limousine and Secret Service vehicle that had to remain close to the commander-in-chief. The MSU Physical Plant erected metal scaffolding to support the 20-foot backdrops for the main stage and two side stages, while the presidential stage boasted a special split backdrop to allow easy access to the presidential limo in case of emergency. Creating floral arrangements befitting the occasion presented a creative opportunity for MSU. The University Florist, horticulturalists and landscapers designed a maroon and white garden of several thousand live plants, trees and cuttings. A white, covered archway was constructed for the two presidents’—Bush and MSU’s Donald Zacharias—entrance to the stadium from the fieldhouse. Bulldog students helped build the stages, arrange the greenery and flowers, run cables, and sew bunting and backdrops. Roadrunners and Orientation Leaders worked as ushers. And that’s not to mention the trumpet soloist who powerfully performed the national anthem.


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Security for the president was a primary focus. Secret Service and police were stationed on top of the stadium and surrounding rooftops, but the federal agents were concerned about sightlines—especially from the roofline of the Herzer building. The solution? The gray covering used to protect the coliseum’s floor during non-athletic events and a rope strung from the field house to the stadium. Metal detectors, bag inspections upon entry and custodial staff on the lookout for anything unusual while performing their jobs helped round out the security. In this pre-internet era, some 100 members of the national media filed their news reports in the auditorium and offices of Memorial Hall, which was equipped with more than 25 telephones and connections to the University Television Center’s new satellite truck— allowing the world to see Mississippi State host a successful and impressive event. When May 13 finally arrived, a crowd of 17,000 guests, graduates and their families and friends waited in the drizzling rain to welcome the 41st president. But just as the state climatologist, who was also an MSU professor, predicted the rain stopped just as the president stepped on the field proving to everyone that we couldn’t have planned it any better. Gaddis Hunt began his career at Mississippi State in 1966 as program director of the Colvard Union. During the more than 40 years of service that followed, he served in numerous director positions including facilities use, Humphrey Coliseum, support services and physical resources. He later was named associate vice president of business affairs and retired in

2006 as Mississippi State’s chief administrative officer. He earned a bachelor’s in political science from MSU in 1965 and later added a bachelor’s in management and a master’s in counselor education. The food court in the Colvard Student Union—The Gaddis Hunt Commons—bears his name to recognize his years of service and contributions to the university.