Where Are They Now? – Dan Kyzer

Dan Kyzer, a graduate of the Class of 2005, attended Hillcrest for 5 years, from 8th through 12th grades. During his years at HCS, he played junior high football and was involved in band, indoor percussion, choir, chapel band, and drama.  Dan also played guitar, bass guitar, various percussion instruments, and the euphonium.

Just before graduating from Hillcrest, a dear friend of Kyzer’s and fellow HCS grad Jason Hobert (c/o 2004), introduced him to Dr. John Ingwerson, the classical guitar teacher at Hinds.  He began studying with Dr. Ingwerson that fall, and in two years earned a scholarship to Southern Miss.  In 2009, he began studying at The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston with maestro Eliot Fisk, one of the great guitarists of our time. After finishing his Master’s Degree there, he moved to Denton, Texas to begin doctoral studies at the University of North Texas, where he earned a Doctoral Teaching Fellowship, and he is currently finishing his dissertation. As a Teaching Fellow at UNT, Dan served as the Director of the UNT Guitar Ensemble and taught applied lessons, guitar class, and guitar pedagogy.  His wife, Abigail, has a Master’s degree in Musicology from UNT.  They met there on the first day of class and were married in 2013.  The Kyzers still live just outside of Denton, and Abigail teaches private and group piano, as well as musicianship classes, at Coppell Conservatory.

Since 2014, Kyzer has taught applied and class guitar, music fundamentals, and music appreciation at Mountain View College in Dallas. That year, he founded the MVC Guitar Festival and continue to serve as its director; this weekend event takes place every April and includes concerts, masterclasses, competitions, and a community guitar orchestra. As a solo guitarist, he holds competition prizes from the Sierra Nevada Guitar Festival, Southern Guitar Festival (Columbia, SC), and Mississippi Guitar Festival, and he has been featured as an artist and adjudicator at the Lone Star Guitar Festival and the Collin College Guitar Competition.  Dan has collaborated with such ensembles as the Boston Metro Opera, MIT Women’s Chorus, Fort Worth Opera, Orpheus Chamber Singers, UNT University Singers, and Music Theater Denton. Currently, he and Abigail are working on “Concerto No. 1 in D Major” for guitar and orchestra by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco — their first major project together.

When asked what advice he would give to current and future HCS grads, Dan states the following: “Just as you practice a sport, an instrument, or an art, practice love and empathy. You will never know the influence your words and actions have and what your peers will remember when they think of you. Every time we can show love and caring, our lives are infinitely better than when we show bitterness, spite, and hate. These are the things that matter twelve years out of high school, far more than popularity, success, grades, and how much fun you had. On a more practical note, don’t worry if you don’t get into an Ivy League school or even to your second or third college choice. Also, if you don’t know what you want to do right after high school, don’t spend $40k (or even $10k) a year in tuition trying to figure it out. Determination and relentless curiosity — these are qualities that will help you make a plan to succeed both in your career and in life. They are just as important as the credentials you will surely earn from any college, whether you end up at Hinds, Ole Miss, or Harvard.”

Alumnus Assists Elementary Art

Annie Hutchins, who graduated from HCS last May with the Class of 2016, is in the second semester of her freshman year at the University of Mississippi; she is majoring in art with a minor in education.  In order to ensure that art education is indeed the career she wants to pursue, Annie spent much of her Christmas break from her studies at Ole Miss helping Mrs. Gifford teach art in the lower school.  She states that this rewarding experience helped her fully commit to her studies and to her goal of becoming an art instructor.  No doubt Mrs. Gifford enjoyed having such a capable assistant, as well!

Where Are They Now? – Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson Deaton graduated from Hillcrest in 2011 after attending for 13 years. During high school she was a member of both Honor Society and Beta Club, as well as of the yearbook staff, serving as Editor during her senior year. Melissa then attended William Carey University on full scholarship and was heavily involved with the Student Music Therapy Organization; she served as President for two years.

After completing a six-month music therapy internship with Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care of St. Louis, Melissa graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Therapy. She earned her music therapy board certification (MT-BC) in February of 2016 and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in music therapy at the University of Kentucky. Melissa is also working as a teacher’s assistant for the UK music therapy department and for the New Horizons instrumental ensemble for adults. Her current research interests include cognitive-behavior therapy techniques in hospice and bereavement.

Melissa has this message for current students: “Always trust God to guide you in the direction of his calling. There’s a very big world beyond where you are right now, and hard work gives you the freedom to explore it.”

Where Are They Now? – Mandy Horton

Mandy Rutland attended Hillcrest for 13 years, beginning in 5-year-old kindergarten and continuing through 12th grade, graduating as part of the Class of 2002.  Mandy was a member of the yearbook staff for 2 years, and she was a cheerleader from 6th through 12th grades.

After graduation, she attended Mississippi College and majored in Elementary Education. She has been teaching for 9 years at the k-5 and first grade levels.  She currently teaches K5 at Hartfield Academy in Flowood. She is married to Jason Horton (another Hillcrest alumnus), and they have two children: Hunter, who is 9, and Baliegh, who is 9 months.

Mike Salter of Brandon pauses to make a donation in the red kettle recently with Salvation Army bell ringer Violet Thompson of Raymond outside the Flowood Walmart. Cailyn Rhedin, 3, and Brenda Moffett of Brandon slip a donation into the Salvation Army red kettle. Mike Salter stops to make a donation while Flowood Rotary Club members Roscoe Greene and Sherry Cook, both of Brandon, volunteer as Salvation Army bell ringers outside the Flowood Walmart recently. Salvation Army bell ringer Violet Thompson of Raymond explains that another option for donors this year is the donation kiosk.

Mandy’s message to Hillcrest students is “never give up on your dreams. Always try hard in everything you do and give over 100 percent. Most of all, keep your eyes and heart open to the Lord and listen to His ways; they are always better than your own.”

Where Are They Now? – Chandler Key

It’s always a joy when former students pay a visit to their “old” teachers and school to share memories, but it’s a special blessing when alumni return in order to share their love of the Lord and their life experiences with current Hillcrest students.  Chandler Key — HCS Class of 2014 and Hall of Fame member — is in his third year of study at Mississippi College, majoring in Christian Studies with a focus in Ministry.  He also has recently taken the job of youth minister/director at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Byram.  Chandler returned to Hillcrest’s Upper School today to speak during Chapel; his message was a reminder to students, faculty, and staff that all believers have access to God all the time, due to the sacrifice of his son Jesus.  Our responsibility, then, is to spend time with Him, not just as part of a community, but one-on-one in prayer and Bible study.


Christians also have a responsibility to care for others when we see a need.  Proverbs 14:31 states, “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him.”  To this end, Hillcrest will be sponsoring Christmas giving projects — one among elementary students, and the another in the Upper School — to help children who may not otherwise have any gifts to open on Christmas morning.  Upper School students who want to participate should bring a bag of candy and 5 one-dollar toys. These items will fill stockings for approximately 80 needy children (between the ages of 3 and 10) who live in the metro area.  The deadline to bring items is Thursday, December 1st.  The Lower School is sponsoring a “Giving Tree.”  Elementary parents, please ask your children to share what they know about this service project, and detailed messages were sent today on Notify.

Hillcrest families have always been generous to those who are in need, and no doubt, we will once again meet (or surpass) our giving goals to help metro-area children have a Merry Christmas too.