Neshoba County native Marty Stuart shows off his honorary 1976 diploma from Philadelphia High School.
Neshoba County native Marty Stuart shows off his honorary 1976 diploma from Philadelphia High School.
Marty Stuart graduated from Philadelphia High School last Tuesday night as part of the Class of 1976, two years after his classmates arranged for the diploma and met for their 40th reunion.

Community leaders, including many of Stuart’s former classmates, filled the historic train depot to watch as superintendent Lisa Hull presented the diploma, which was the brainchild of classmate Chaun Culpepper, now of Florida.

On Wednesday, Stuart was at the state Capitol in Jackson to formally announce his country music museum he unveiled here nearly a year ago. (See story, page 6A.)

Culpepper, who introduced Hull, recalled how Stuart left Philadelphia in the eighth grade to go to Nashville and never looked back.

He told several stories about Stuart’s childhood, including their times together in the Cub Scouts.

He said the Scouts were meeting once in his home across the street from the radio station and Stuart, instead of participating, went to another room “to play the guitar.”

When Culpepper’s mother asked him to join in with the other Scouts, Stuart told her he was “happy right here picking this guitar.”

Culpepper credited some of Stuart’s success to when they were in a band together during their younger years.

Many members of the Class of 1976 had hoped that Stuart could attend their 40th reunion in 2016 but his schedule prevented it from happening.

That is when the idea for an honorary diploma came about, Culpepper said.

Hull said the city School Board approved the diploma unanimously without hesitation.

“At that point, he was a graduate,” she said. “It was the coolest thing.”

Standing near a rendering of the proposed Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music in Philadelphia, Hull told Stuart that he was going to “breath some fresh air into this city and into this economy.”

She said school children would be able to go to the center, be inspired and dream of becoming another Marty Stuart.

Stuart said his mother, Hilda, would be proud that he now has his high school diploma.

“The way I figure it, I have finally amounted to something,” he said, noting that the only diploma he had was from First Baptist Church Kindergarten.

“When I left Philadelphia for a weekend in 1972, I carried what’s in this room with me, the quality and integrity of the people of Neshoba County. I love you with all my heart.”

Steve Wilkerson was master of ceremonies for the event and like, Culpepper, he jokingly claimed responsibility for some of Stuart’s success.

Wilkerson said he and Stuart rode the same school bus.

“I was the flag man and Larry Mills was the bus driver,” Wilkerson said. “Marty wanted to be a flag man. I taught him how to be a flag man. He wouldn’t be where he is today if I hadn’t taught him.”

After the diploma presentation, Community Development Partnership President David Vowell gave on overview of the Stuart Center.

Mayor James A. Young told the crowd about the time a young Stuart came to visit a family member in the Neshoba County Nursing Home where he was working at the time.

Young said everyone raced to get a glimpse of the star, but were afraid to speak to him.

He expressed appreciation to Stuart for “putting the city of Philadelphia in his foresights and never forgetting his hometown.”

Neshoba County Supervisor Obbie Riley,  Rob Stone of the Library of Congress and  John Troutman of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History also commented on the Stuart Center and what it would mean not only to the Neshoba County and Mississippi but the entire world.

The Stuart Center is endorsed by the GRAMMY Museum, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Library of Congress.

Wilkerson brought Stuart back to the lectern at the end of the program for a musical tribute “to Philadelphia’s most famous citizen and man about town, Tobe Gill,” who died last year.

Stuart was joined by Gill’s pastor M. C. Thompson.

“Tobe is with us in spirit tonight,” Stuart said. “He would be the CEO of this event.”

Thompson then sang “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” accompanied by Stuart on guitar.

Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music, which incorporates the historic Ellis Theater, is equal parts concert venue, museum, and educational center. With over 20,000 invaluable items, Stuart’s collection of country music artifacts is the largest private collection of its kind in the world.