Special to the Banner-News
Southern Arkansas University's beloved Celebration of Lights holiday tradition marks its 40th anniversary this year. With this milestone approaching, the legacy of one man's leadership, initiative, and love for students is being remembered. J Courson has left an indelible mark on the SAU campus and community through his unwavering dedication and establishment of enduring traditions.
Courson began his time at SAU in 1981 as assistant dean of students, whereafter he transitioned to serve in various positions including, associate dean of students, dean of students, and associate dean for housing and special projects. However important these roles were to the campus's success, it was Dean Courson's, as he is more fondly known, creativity in crafting meaningful experiences for his students that carries the most weight for generations of Muleriders.
Courson was responsible for the creation and significant contributions to a number of cherished campus traditions including Family Day, Residence Hall Association Bed Races, Great Greek Canoe Race, Freshman Steak Dinner, and many of the homecoming week activities that are now staples of the SAU experience. These traditions not only reflect the spirit of the University but also serve as examples of how Courson left his mark on SAU.
Celebration of Lights started in 1984 simply as an idea to commemorate the 75th year of the University. Courson decided to put a lighted tree in front of Overstreet. This one-day project, with much initiative from Courson and his students, grew into the illuminating of the campus that is recognizable today. This was a project that, once given creative liberty, Courson was able to bring to life and grow year after year, much like other events credited to him.
While Courson is recognized for the establishment of many facets of the vibrant SAU culture, he is most importantly remembered for his love of being involved, his love of people, and his love of students. He is not merely celebrated by SAU out of respect for the titles he has held but truly because of the person he is. His accomplishments at SAU stemmed from his determination not only to get things done but also to serve others in a true Mulerider fashion.
Courson arrived at SAU not knowing how long his stay would be but said that it was truly the people that got him excited. He was and is student-centered, always spending time with and getting to know students for who they were and helping them achieve their greatest potential. Though he loved everybody he worked with at SAU over the years, Courson quickly noted, "Students are the more fun people."
As the Celebration of Lights illuminates the campus for the 40th time, it serves as a poignant reminder of the legacy left by Courson. His influence permeates the traditions of the SAU community, the spirit of the events he planned, and the individuals he touched and continues to touch. Courson carries on as a beloved member of the Mulerider family.