Neshoba alum establishes $1 million endowment
Longtime entrepreneur and philanthropist Dan Davis returned to his hometown Friday night to attend Neshoba Central High School’s commencement where he announced a new foundation with a $1 million scholarship endowment for Neshoba Central graduates.
Davis was joined on stage by his children, Will, Lucy and Griffin, to present the ceremonial $1 million check to Superintendent of Education Lundy Brantley.
“In the years ahead, I am going to grow this number,” he said.
Davis, who graduated from Neshoba Central in 1972, presented scholar- ships up to $25,000 each to seniors Jorja Ray, Mary Margaret Hall, Abbie Cumberland, RJ Hudson, Emma Smith and John Harvey.
His foundation’s board — which includes Gloria Hadley, retired teacher; Jimmie Joiner, School Board member and Davis’ uncle; Chancery Judge Joey Kilgore and Debbie Burt Myers, retired managing editor of The Neshoba Democrat and now employed by the school district — joined him on stage to announce the first scholarship recipients and to con- gratulate them individually.
Growing up in the House community, Davis attended what was then East Central Junior College and went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi.
He has worked for four U. S. presidents and on 239 political campaigns around the world. He’s represented 13 of the top 15 casino CEOs in the world. He is head of 10 companies spread across the United States and China.
“And nobody cares,” he said. “How do I know this? Because my wonderful children have made sure that I do! They have kept me ground- ed and humble when I need it. I’m grateful for them being here with me tonight.”
Davis told graduates that this is the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Neshoba Central.
“I sat exactly where you are sitting tonight,” he said.
That night, he asked himself some of the same questions “that you are probably asking yourself,” he said, noting he was thinking about getting a job and wondering how he was going to get through college with so little money.
“See, even 50 years ago the problems were not that different than today,” he said. “But I had many fewer opportunities than I hope you are starting with tonight.”
When he graduated, Davis said there were few scholarships despite his good grades and him being Stu- dent Body president and a member of the Beta Club.
“My parents were so supportive but they didn’t have any extra money,” he said. “Life is not fair.”
Davis went to work at U. S. Motors and built electrical motors from 2:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. six days a week so he could go to East Central. He continued to work while attending Ole Miss.
“I realized at Ole Miss that I couldn’t afford to belong to a fraternity like my friends. There was no extra money. Life is so very unfair,” he said.
“Growing up poor seems like a horrible thing, but we were never without, not without the important
things. My mom, who is here tonight, always made sure of that.”
Davis worked for President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, President George H. Bush and President Bill Clinton.
“I also worked with a lot of Congressmen and Senators,” he said. “I worked with the President of Mexico, Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Turkey, hung out in the Philippines with body guards and traveled by bulletproof limousine. You get the picture. They were different times, but then, nobody cares.”
For almost 30 years, Davis traveled the world looking for new opportunities to put casinos.
“When I started, I wasn’t sure if they were the mafia or not but I learned that they were just business- men, who had more ethnics than a lot of people I know,” Davis said. “But nobody cares!”
He told seniors that what really matters today is that he’s CEO of 10 companies “that have one mission: to improve the lives of others. It’s that simple. I’m not opposed to making money, we make money, but if it doesn’t truly help other people, it doesn’t matter how much money it makes, it’s not included in the group of our companies.”
Davis’ companies range from an online school program to help struggling children get their high school diplomas in 1,600 schools districts in the United States to his newest company, based in Shanghai, China, which is about to undergo FDA approval testing.
“It has the ability to test for 40 different diseases in 15 minutes, with only one drop of blood!” Davis said. “Can you imagine how different medicine is going to be?”
In addition, Davis’ company is working with the less fortunate in the Mississippi Delta and is feeding almost 25,000 people each week in Kenya and Tanzania, Africa, in wake of COVID.
“We are working with seven schools there,” he said.
Challenges seniors to go make a difference
In closing his remarks, Davis told seniors that no matter where they are or how difficult it gets in the years ahead, “you are born to make a difference. If I can make a difference in the lives of others, you can certainly do it.”
Making a difference might be buy- ing a sandwich for someone who is hungry or making a card for someone dying on hospice, he said.
“I am asking you to believe that you, a single person, have the power in you to help other people,” Davis said. “Because in helping others, you open yourself up to the goodness that God has put in us. You don’t have to change the world; you have to change the way you look at the world.”
Davis told graduates that they will face many difficult days in their lives as he has.
“You will want to scream at how unfair life is,” he said. “You will fail and fail and fail again, if you are try- ing. But it is those failures that will give you strength. And in those failures the doors will open. And in those failures you will turn from the terrible unfairness of life to celebrate the wonderful unfairness of life.”
Davis said 50 years ago as he was waiting to walk across the stage, he had no clue of the life that awaited him.
“My greatest failure turned
out to be the key to my life,” he said. “Life is so very unfair and I want you to leave here knowing that. Tonight, I want you to enjoy your moments with your family and your friendships. But tomorrow and in the many tomorrows ahead, I want you to remember that old guy who talked to you at graduation and reminded you that life is unfair and to be so grateful for the wonderful unfairness of life.”
At the end of the scholar- ship presentations, Davis told graduates that he wasn’t going to “wait another 50 years to return to Neshoba Central. I’m expecting great things from each of you. Go Rockets!”
Dr. Brantley called Davis’ generosity truly amazing.
“This is such a blessing for our students and their families,” he said. “It means so much that a graduate of NCHS came back to give to our students and share his story.”
Scholarship recipient Jorja Ray is the daughter of Chasity Burrow. She plans to attend East Central Community College.
Mary Margaret Hall is the granddaughter of Betty and Bobby Hall. She plans to attend East Mississippi Community College.
Abbi Cumberland is the daughter of Mandy and Rusty Cumberland. She plans to attend East Central Community College.
RJ Hudson is the son of Nadine Hudson and Reginald Gerrille Hudson. He plans to attend East Central Community College.
Emma Smith is the daughter of David E "Scooter" Smith and Christy Smith. She plans to attend Hinds Community College.
John Harvey is the grandson of Wyvette Harvey. He plans to attend Northeast Mississippi Community College.