White FHU Logo
White FHU Logo

Henderson, Tennessee — (Feb. 29, 2024) — More than 80 Freed-Hardeman students took center stage at the Link Centre in Tupelo, Mississippi, Saturday, Feb. 17, displaying a wide array of talents in visual art, photography, music and theatre. President David R. Shannon welcomed approximately 165 alumni and friends who had gathered to celebrate the talents of the university’s fine and performing arts students.

“Tonight is a way for us to open the door to FHU so you may see the hard work that has been done, but also the development that has taken place as these students devoted their skills and talent that God has given them,” Shannon said. “Our mission at FHU is to develop students’ God-given talents for His glory. God has given them talent, and our faculty has helped them develop their gifts. You’ll see their work on the walls and hear them perform, but there’s even more to them. They’re full-time college students, carrying full-time academic loads and all of their other activities, but they took the time to be with us.” 

FHU student Leilani Baker shares a laugh with guests while standing in front of her piece called “Motionless.”

The evening began with an art and photography showcase highlighting the work of six students: Leilani Baker’s debut oil painting she calls “Motionless,” Tori Robison’s painting “Madonna and The Frogs,” Anniston McCall’s photograph in a light and shadows series, Angelina Barr’s photo series “I Am Not My Hair,” Gabrielle Smith’s 4 ft by 3 ft painting called “Pieces” and Morgan Milliken’s photo series called “The Difference a Wig Can Make.” 

(l to r) FHU student Angelina Barr and FHU Associate Professor of Art Jud Davis stand next to a photo from her series “I Am Not My Hair.”

“This was part of a class assignment, and it’s one of 12 in the series,”said Milliken, whose photograph was a skeleton dressed like a rock n’ roll musician with a mohawk made of carrots.

“I loved the skeleton, and Andy Warhol inspires me. I like intrigue, creating art and having it showcased.”

(l to r) Parents Brian and Angie Milliken stand with their daughter, Morgan Milliken, who presented a photo from her series “The Difference a Wig Can Make.”Following the art and photography showcase, the spotlight shifted to the stage where the FHU Chorale, Legacy Jazz Band, Brass Ensemble, and FHU Theatre took the stage, offering a diverse lineup. The Legacy Jazz Band commenced the evening with a performance of “Jazz Police,” the Brass Ensemble followed with “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and FHU Theatre presented scenes from “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” which featured Sarah Bowen, Maci Cagle, Jack Joiner, MK Miller, Levi Secula and Trenton Sweeney. Theatre’s second performance was a scene from “Star Spangled Girl,” which featured Luke Noles, Levi Secula and Collett Heenan.

Heenan portrayed Sophie in “Star Spangled Girl,” a young woman angry and annoyed by her neighbor, Norman, who smothers her with unwanted affection. “The role is familiar to me because I was introduced to her freshman year in Acting I. But in Tupelo, I wanted to play her like I never had. I wanted to do my best and I’m really proud of how it turned out.”

Luke Noles played opposite Heenan, as Norman. “We had a single opportunity to perform after weeks of preparation, which brought both heightened pressure and a sense of liberation. Our performance aimed to showcase our capabilities,” Noles explained. “Knowing that I represented not only my own abilities but also those of my colleagues was somewhat stressful. The singular performance felt surreal, as all the pent-up energy was released in one moment—an experience rare in my line of work. Overall, I was thrilled to showcase what FHU’s theatre program is capable of.”

FHU theatre students Luke Noles, Levi Secula and Collett Heenan perform a scene from “Star Spangled Girl.”

FHU Theatre Director Dr. Cliff Thompson was struck by the beauty and energy of the student performers. “I’m grateful to FHU and the Link Centre for giving our talented students the opportunity to show what they can do. Music, theatre, photography and fine arts all worked together to create a very memorable evening,” said Thompson, who coordinated the performance event.

“The scene from ‘The Star Spangled Girl’ has been a favorite on campus for years now. Luke Noles and Collett Heenan have performed it multiple times,” Thompson said. “We wanted to feature the comic skills of our student performers.”

Additionally, FHU Chorale stirred the audience with powerful performances of  “Prayer for the Children,”  “Judgement Day,” “Circle of Life.”

FHU Chorale performs "Prayer for the Children" during FHU at the Link: Celebrating the Fine and Performing Arts held in Tupelo, Mississippi, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

Thompson’s praise for the students was apparent from the audio booth when he waved his cell phone flashlight from side to side as the entire company sang “Hey Jude” during the finale. 

FHU performing arts students take the stage for their closing song "Hey Jude" during FHU at the Link: Celebrating the Fine and Performing Arts held in Tupelo, Mississippi, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

Thompson, along with faculty members Adam Booher, Brian Bundren, Jud Davis, Katie Deck, Brandyn Graves, Dr. Alan Kinningham, Dr. Gary McKnight and Dr. Michael Yopp, all worked together to make the evening happen. Director of Alumni Engagement Chris Ramey, as well as members of the FHU Magnolia Associates (Tupelo, Mississippi), coordinated the reception for the evening. 

FHU student Kiana Mitchell performs her original song "Yours," during FHU at the Link: Celebrating the Fine and Performing Arts held in Tupelo, Mississippi, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.President Shannon thanked FHU faculty involved in the planning of the event, Link Centre Executive Director Melody Deas, and event sponsor and FHU Board of Trustees member Chris Hallmark, along with his wife, Holly. 

“I had the idea to showcase the FHU fine arts department because I think it has been one of FHU’s ‘best kept secrets’ for far too long,” Chris Hallmark said. “The depth of talent across FHU’s visual and performing arts is impressive. I serve on the board of Link Centre, and I felt the Tupelo arts community, as well as FHU friends and alumni in north Mississippi, needed to see firsthand what is going on in fine arts at Freed-Hardeman. Additionally, we want to continue getting FHU’s name out there to students and families in north Mississippi who value Christian education.” Hallmark himself played a piano solo, “Last Date,” during the program. 

“We were very pleased with the turnout; we met alumni who have not attended an FHU event or been on campus in years. We had members of the community attend who had never heard of FHU,” Hallmark said. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and several individuals said it was refreshing to enjoy a night of clean, family-oriented entertainment, provided by the extremely talented faculty members and FHU students.”

The significance of hosting the visual and performing arts showcase off-campus was not lost on the participating students, who recognized the unique opportunity to showcase their talents to a broader audience.

Marlee Gary, a freshman social work and Bible major, felt a bit emotional once the evening was over. “We worked on our performances for about a month; we worked hard daily,” said Gary who sang during multiple portions of the show. “I’m sad it’s over. We put in our blood, sweat and tears.”  

Attendees left impressed and even more determined to support the university’s fine and performing arts.

“Watching this show brought back so many wonderful memories of my time while at Freed-Hardeman,” said Kathy Begnaud, who attended with her husband, Charles. She completed her studies at FHU in 1970 and was a part of an early a cappella group, Madrigal Singers. “This evening had a diverse group of talents and it really showcased everyone.” 

The mission of Freed-Hardeman University is to help students develop their God-given talents for His glory by empowering them with an education that integrates Christian faith, scholarship and service. With locations in Henderson and Memphis, FHU offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees.