As part of the final graduation requirements for Millsaps, all seniors muse complete a 4-7 page paper reflecting their time and experiences at Millsaps. There is a single winner chosen to read his/her paper aloud at graduation, and I am inevitably NOT going to win so I figured I would share my reflection with the next best audience…my “loyal” readers. I hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: the following post is extremely long…if you are currently driving or are busy do not begin reading. If you are at the DMV continue on..
My first Millsaps experience was not in fact my own. I set foot on campus as a bright eyed and eager seventh grade student, accompanying my family to bring my older brother, Cree, to a leadership conference hosted at Millsaps. At this point my older brother fell in love with the campus and decided when the time came he would attend Millsaps; however, I fell into whatever the opposite of love is. I wasn’t charmed by the campus, I found the people strange, and I certainly did not want to attend the school where my brother would soon become quite the legacy. I wanted to be different. I wanted a large state school experience and I wanted to do the exact opposite of my brother, these feelings I did not keep secret. Cree did in fact choose to attend Millsaps, and throughout high school we would visit him often and each time I would blatantly tell the admissions staff and Dean Katz, that I was NOT going to Millsaps and would only apply to appease my parents.
There came a turning point in my cynicism, and to this day it remains one of the most influential days of my life. The turning point was a Saturday in late March, 2009. My mother and I had made the trip to Starkville for a cheerleading clinic and I just knew Mississippi State University was the college for me; however, as we roamed the campus I felt no sense of unity, no identification with the campus, and I felt swallowed by the sheer size and mass of students. The following day, I visited Millsaps for my Presidential Scholarship interview and my experience could not have been more different. This time as I roamed the campus I envisioned myself lounging in the bowl and cheering on the Majors from the sidelines. I was recognized by most students and staff members as “Cree’s little sister”, but I realized this was not in fact a downfall. I came to understand that knowing people at a place I would spend the next four years of my life was only a good thing, and as I sat in the Presidential suite, it dawned on me that much to my regret Millsaps was, in fact, the place for me. Perhaps the best way to describe this turning point is to say I chose to be a “big fish in a little pond” rather than a “little fish in a big pond”.
I often try to explain this “aha” moment during my campus tours, and it never fails that I get the follow up question: “Well are you happy with your decision?” As I reflect on my four years at Millsaps, I can honestly say that Millsaps is without a doubt the best decision I could have made. There are certainly those days (most often Saturdays in the fall) when I long for the atmosphere of an SEC school, but these days are vastly outnumbered by the memories and experiences Millsaps has provided. I have developed relationships with some of the most brilliant professors in their field. I have had the opportunity to spend nearly five months living and studying abroad, developing much more than simply my intelligence. I have spent countless hours with friends from all over the country and world from backgrounds both alike and different from my own. I have had the opportunity to keep cheerleading a part of my college experience, and I have had the ability to participate in extracurricular organizations in all areas of life. Most importantly I have had a college experience that is nearly impossible to summarize in a single reflection paper.
While these experiences are a direct result of Millsaps, I would not have been exposed to such without the support and encouragement of my family. Those days when I dreaded studying for a final, or making the three hour drive back to campus, I remembered just how blessed I was to attend an institute of higher learning like Millsaps. I will be only the second person (Cree was the first) in my family to graduate from college, and the first female. Attending college was never an option, and my parents understood the importance of a Millsaps education even before I did. It is not without their help that I have had the opportunity to study at Millsaps, graduate debt free, and fully extract the benefits of my beloved college.
At no other college would I have been challenged in every aspect of academia, faith, athletics, social life, and community enrichment. At no other institution would the President of the College take the time to teach a class each week and make it a point to remember each and every student’s name. Only at Millsaps can one walk across campus and catch a glimpse of the President’s wife watering the flowers or pulling weeds. And only at Millsaps does one have the opportunity to not only be a student, but also be an investment of each and every professor and staff member. This sincere interest in the well-being and development of students is no more evident than in the Economics department. The professors that compromise the department, Dr. P. Taylor, Dr. S. Taylor, and Dr. Fender, have helped shape my intellect and develop my career interests in ways which I will never overlook.
I had my first encounter with the Economics department during my freshman year in my Core 1 class taught by Dr. Fender. Her immense intellect and fierce demand for respect quickly intrigued me, and for the past four years, she has been the professor that I have strived to please with each and every assignment and decision. A compliment from her has meant more than an A+ on any Calculus assignment, and her genuine interest in my success and personal growth has greatly assisted the development of the student and woman I have become. Dr. Fender has made me continue my “pursuit of excellence”, and her influence is not alone. The remaining economics professors have contributed their share to my development was well.
While Mother Millsaps may have always welcomed me with open arms, grandfather Taylor was always there as well. For many students Dr. Taylor serves as that grandfather we never had; the one who encourages us in the face of defeat and who is our biggest cheerleader in all endeavors. His belief in my intellect and abilities was often there when nothing else was. Economics is by no means an “easy” area of study, and those class periods when I felt near defeat or plain incompetent, it was Dr. Taylor’s kind words that gave me the strength to continue. His belief in me, as well as his charisma and practical application of economics has given me to tools necessary to become a successful graduate, and in his words attain the much coveted “J.O.B. degree”.
Dr. Fender has been the fire under my feet, Dr. P. Taylor the cheerleader in my corner, and finally, Dr. S. Taylor my cheerful colleague. Without Dr. S. Taylor’s vibrant, entertaining, and dynamic classes my experience in the economics department would not be complete. It was always Dr. Taylor’s economics holiday parties, jokes in class, or video clips that reminded me that economics CAN in fact be fun. Without her I would have never been kicked out of a federal building during the department trip to Washington DC, nor would I remember that even the dullest assignments can be made interesting. I owe much of my interest in the field of economics to Dr. S. Taylor, and I am thankful to have her cheerful influence in my time at Millsaps. Without these “Three Musketeers” I can whole heartedly state that my Millsaps experience would have been much different. With their help, encouragement, and expectations, I have never ceased learning both about economics as well as myself.
While the economics department has undoubtedly had an influence in my life, there is a professor outside of the department that has greatly shaped my Millsaps experience as well. Dr. Reinhard, the lone conservative ranger in the Political Science department, has been both a mentor and a friend for the past four years. His ability to intelligently discuss nearly every political topic on the face of the Earth has never ceased to amaze me, and his inclusion and interest of student opinions in his classes has helped me become the confident speaker I am today. There is certainly more growth and leadership development in my future, but without Dr. Reinhard I would never have advanced my debating abilities, my knowledge of politics, or my interest in public service. I would not have had the opportunity to have countless discussions about decision making methods, nor would I have had the privilege to argue with the most intelligent and witty political scientist. Dr. Reinhard never stopped teaching; from his late night blog posts to his early morning emails about the most recent political fiasco, he had the gift of knowledge that he graciously shared with each of his students.
Dr. Reinhard may be the lone conservative ranger, but this past semester another very influential “member” of the political science department has had quite the impact on my time at Millsaps. Dr. Pearigen is not merely the President of the College. He is a teacher, friend, mentor, and great man to which we are all extremely grateful for his leadership. During the two and a half hours of his Constitutional Law class he becomes more than the President, he becomes a professor that expects nothing but the best. I have been challenged to my greatest abilities both intellectually and argumentatively, and his intellect and compassion for history and the law is astounding. His interest in his students’ success and his love for Millsaps is incredible, and I am extremely grateful to have him as an influential figure in my Millsaps life. From day one, Dr. Pearigen has made Millsaps and his student his number one priority, and the love both him and his wife have shown for the school is extremely captivating. I cannot help but be a proud member of an institution with such a strong foundation, and I very thankful that I chose to enroll in Constitutional Law, after all at what other college would one have the opportunity to learn from the President of the College?
The relationships I have formed with my professors have had a tremendous influence on the intelligence, compassion, and interest in learning that I have developed; however, Millsaps’ influence does not end there. While academics have certainly been an influential part of my Millsaps experience, there is a particular five month period to which I owe much of my personal development. In the Spring of 2012, I was given the opportunity to spend the semester studying in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. During this time I traveled to seven countries, spent countless hours socializing with people from around the world, navigated public transportation by myself, and grew into a more culturally diverse young woman. I formed friendships beyond Millsaps, and I was able to learn about United States economics and politics from the outside looking in. During my semester abroad, I developed a passion for diversity and travel, and a desire to seek a career with such interests. I experienced an entirely new aspect of my life, and I was given the opportunity of a lifetime courtesy of Millsaps.
The decision I made on that day in late March was, and is perhaps the best decision of my life thus far. Choosing Millsaps led me to four years of Ad Excellentiam. Four years of forming relationships both within and beyond the classroom. Four years of intellectual challenges, and four years of intense personal development. Millsaps prides itself on being “The Honors College of Mississippi”; a school that teaches students that the act of learning and developing one’s mind is vastly more important than the exact information within. I have unquestionably experienced this, and I am proud to say within a few months I will be a graduate of the finest higher education institute in the country. With graduation comes uncertainty, fear, and nostalgia; however, I am confident that Mother Millsaps has equipped me with the tools necessary for success in all areas.
Over the past four years, I have developed into a confident, intellectual, and faithful young woman. In the words of Dean Katz “Mother Millsaps has truly made me Leader Cantrell”. The relationships I have developed with both my professors and fellow students are those I would not have formed elsewhere, and my five month experience abroad is one that will forever be influential. I have developed into a woman that I am proud of; however, as a true Millsaps student I will never stop pursuing excellence; graduation is simply the beginning.