Each spring as Black-eyed Susans bloom on the small southern campus, Golden Eagles flock to Hattiesburg to celebrate the founding of our alma mater. While I can’t be in Hattiesburg to celebrate, today is a great day to be a Golden Eagle. I am proud of the University of Southern Mississippi, a noble institution that not only educated me in the classroom but also empowered me to become the best version of myself.
In the early 1900’s a handful of tenacious schoolteachers stood firm in their determination to leave Mississippi better than they found it. The men lobbied the state’s legislator to establish a state teachers college and impact Mississippians through the transformative power of education. On March 30, 1910, the 37th governor of the state of Mississippi signed a bill that established the Mississippi Normal College in the heart of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Over the next century, Mississippi Normal College would blossom from a small teaching school built on 120 acres of cutover timber into the University of Southern Mississippi.
Just like the institution itself, my older sister came to Hattiesburg for schooling in education. Though her first taste of Southern Miss had as much to do with cute baseball players she met on spring break as it did the quality of their education program, she became a Golden Eagle in the fall of 2001.
In high school I never expected to follow my sister’s footsteps and attend Southern Miss. Even after enjoying fall weekends tailgating in the District and cheering on the Eagles Saturday night at the Rock, I didn’t think much about it.
But in the spring of 2004, as I sat in the bottom of the J.B. George Commons, I learned what the Southern spirit was. Dr. Joseph Paul—or Joe Paul to anyone who has stepped foot on College Boulevard—stood in front of the group of potential students and shed light on what made Golden Eagles a little different.
Joe Paul explained that though we would receive a quality education on a beautiful southern campus, it wasn’t the books or the surroundings or even the Saturdays in the fall that made the University of Southern Mississippi special. It was the people. It was the professors, students and alumni that committed to leaving their alma mater and their classmates better than they found it.
For some reason that resonated in my shaggy-haired head. As I set up my boom box, hung my obligatory swimsuit model poster and had my first conversation with my roommate in the bathroom of Bond Hall in August of 2004, I became part of the Golden Eagle Family.
Over the next four years I attended class and hit the books; but more importantly, I built true friendships and was encouraged to make choices that would stretch my abilities. I came to Hattiesburg a self-conscious 19-year-old and left four years later as a confident, proud Golden Eagle. My college experience taught me the importance of curiosity, the value of servant leadership and the importance of striving to reach the top.
I would not be the man I am today without the people at Southern Mississippi. From the messy freshman year roommate who grew to be my best friend to the older guys that encouraged me to grow into my potential. From the brothers who taught me what it meant to be a man of class, to the sister who made sure I never forgot. From the dorm mates who made me feel at home to the faculty members who made sure I would always remember where my home is. The Golden Eagles of the University of Southern Mississippi are truly a family to me.
As I grew in my experience at Southern Miss, I learned what it meant to yearn to leave the university better than I found it. I will always cherish my Southern memories and will always seek to reach ever higher.
Southern Miss To the Top!