ARLINGTON, Va. -- Joe Nelson has done Pass Christian and Mississippi proud.
Over the course of the summer, the Pass Christian Middle School principal was named the Outstanding Middle Level Principal of the Year and then made the short list of three finalists nationally by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
This week, Nelson, 46, flew to Arlington, Va., to participate in the annual Principals Institute and Awards Gala. The three-day program celebrates the principals' outstanding work, and gives the honorees a chance to share their expertise and best practices.
"Personally to me, it's a wow moment," Nelson said. "Coming here and being a representative of Mississippi, I thought that was really great.
"And to be selected in the top three was quite overwhelming and humbling."
To be honored as the state's best by the Mississippi Association of Secondary School Principals is a major honor, but Nelson said he was also the first Mississippian to be named a national finalist.
"That means a whole lot to me to be a first to represent our state and the great things we're doing in education. There's a lot of things that we do well and it's my goal to share that with as many people as I can," he said. "Coming from the small state of Mississippi and having the opportunity to represent the state is wonderful. It's a great feeling."
Attending the Principals Institute has been a learning experience for Nelson and has inspired him to do more upon his return to the Magnolia State.
"I came to have a deeper understanding of what success looks like in other places and evaluate that to what we're doing already," he said. "How can I come back and improve what we're already doing? That's what I want to come away with.
"I want to be able to come back and empower everyone around me to success. Our kids in Mississippi can do it. They have the ability just like any other kid in any other part of the United States."
Thursday, Nelson traveled to Washington to meet U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker as well as U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo's aide. Hawaii's Sheena Alaiasa won the national award. California's Erik Burmeister was also named a finalist.