Along with their diplomas, the 20 seniors at Tupelo High School received an unexpected graduation gift.
Each graduate got a letter and a check for $1,000 from Pre-Paid Legal Services founder Harland Stonecipher and his wife, Shirley. The gifts were a tribute to the Stoneciphers’ granddaughter, Nikki Stonecipher, who died along with her parents, Brent and Tina, in a July 24, 2005, plane crash.
Nikki Stonecipher would have graduated with the class of 2012.
Harland and Shirley Stonecipher attended Tupelo High’s graduation ceremony so they could see a video presentation about Nikki’s life, but they did not want to draw attention to themselves, Harland said.
He said he thought the graduates appreciated the gifts, which totaled $20,000 altogether.
“I think they were surprised and, of course, they were pleased,” he said. “The crowd responded very favorably when it was announced.”
He said the graduates may use the money as they see fit, but he would encourage them to use it for their education. Tupelo High graduate Brandon Maggia said the students knew the Stoneciphers would do something for the seniors, but they didn’t know what it would be — until graduation night.
Maggia said the students were excited to receive the checks, which were accompanied by a letter explaining the gift.
“They were just as pleased and happy to get it,” he said.
Maggia said he plans to use the money for his education. He said he wasn’t certain of his educational plans yet, but he will likely begin studying business at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in Moore in the fall.
The recent graduation ceremony was not the first time the Stoneciphers have helped students at Tupelo High, where Brent and Tina Stonecipher graduated.
Seven years ago, the couple created the Nikki Stonecipher Memorial Scholarship in their granddaughter’s memory. The scholarship fund, which was established at the East Central University Foundation in Ada, provides deserving students a full scholarship for at least one year and possibly four at ECU.
The scholarships are intended primarily for Tupelo High graduates who cannot afford to attend college but who have strong academic records.
The scholarships normally go to one or more students, Harland said. But this year, the Stoneciphers decided to help everyone in the class of 2012.
“Rather than do one, we decided to give each member $1,000,” he said.
He said the gift was a one-time gesture to honor Nikki, who would have graduated this year had lived. But the Stoneciphers will continue granting scholarships through the fund at ECU, which is financed with proceeds from the annual Nikki Stonecipher Memorial Scholarship Fund Golf Tournament.
Stonecipher said the fund currently has close to $500,000.