From anonymous donor to student accounts, the inaugural class of Jubilee Scholarship recipients are reaping generous benefits at The University of Southern Mississippi.
The 11 students awarded the Jubilee Scholarship this spring are as diverse as the campus community, with different majors and career goals, different social and geographic backgrounds, and differing ways in which to carve their niche at Southern Miss. However, there is solidarity among these young adults. Each realizes the value of their college education and has an appreciation for the opportunity presented through the Jubilee Scholarship Program.
“These scholarship recipients are the first to benefit from the generosity of an anonymous donor who enabled them to receive scholarship assistance in order to stay in school,” said President Martha Saunders. “I can think of no more fitting use for such benevolence.”
Finding the means to fund her education has become a family affair for 19-year-old Miya Warfield. The accounting major from Madison, Miss, thought she was dreaming when she got the phone call regarding her Jubilee Scholarship application.
“I was very excited when my dad called to say I had mail at home,” said Warfield. “He started reading the letter and said ‘congratulations,’ and I was wondering if I was dreaming about the scholarship or if I had actually gotten the scholarship,” she said with a chuckle.
Warfield, who hopes to one day own her own dance studio, explained that her parents mortgaged their home and her dad sold his truck to help finance her college education. But even with the addition of her Dixie Darling and Lucky Day scholarships she still needed the boost which came from the Jubilee Scholarship.
“I don’t know who gave the money for these scholarships, but I thank you so much. You are making a big difference in my life,” said Warfield.
In her scholarship application she explained her belief that “education is not a right, it is a privilege.” She is the first child in her family to attend college, adding that her younger siblings and youth in her community see her as a role model. “I will not let them down,” she vowed.
The Jubilee Scholarship was conceived in 2009 when Southern Miss was one of a handful of colleges and universities surprised with a multi-million dollar donation from an individual or individuals. The university was given $6 million with only a few stipulations: 1) that much of the money is used for women and minority students, and 2) that the donor must remain anonymous.
President Martha Saunders has used the largess to create a program for student retention, which is one of the university’s top strategic priorities. She determined the Jubilee Scholarships would be restricted to students who enter Southern Miss as first-time, full-time freshman, have completed a minimum of 12 semester hours, earned at least a 2.25 semester or cumulative grade point average and include an essay outlining their financial need and benefit of the scholarship.
As a condition of the scholarship, recipients must become a mentee through the Ladder Program, which is an initiative of the Leadership Scholarship Program. They must also attend Legacy Series lectures and Leadership Series lectures on topics relevant to academic and personnel success, character and civility and tradition-building.
Tradition is important for 18-year-old Brittney Clanton. She is an elementary education major from Lucedale, Miss., and comes from a long line of school teachers. While elementary ed wasn’t her first career target, it is where she hit the bulls eye. “I’ve decided I’m meant to be a teacher and I think it’s neat that I’m at a school (Southern Miss) that was founded as a place to train teachers,” she said.
Clanton is a very active freshman at Southern Miss. She is a member of the Baptist Student Union, a Dixie Darling and Delta Gamma. She has a student loan, her parents have a loan and she works summers to fund her education. This summer she plans to earn education dollars while working in a teaching ministry in China.
“My parents decided when I came to Southern Miss that we would somehow have enough money for school. They said we would find a way to make do with what we have,” said Clanton. “I’m very fortunate that things have fallen into place.”
“Getting this scholarship is overwhelming,” Clanton said. “A lot of my family didn’t get to go to college, or had to go late or had to go someplace else. This reassures me for next semester,” she said.
As is the case with most of the Southern Miss Jubilee Scholarship recipients, Taurean Ragland has earned an impressive grade point average – 3.4 GPA – and impressive credentials. He is a member of IMAGE,- Increasing Minority Access to Graduate Education - and the National Black Society of Engineers. This native of Lambert, Miss, is using a combination of loans and scholarships to pay his way through Southern Miss and to ultimately fulfill his dream of earning degrees in information technology. While he is grateful for the Jubilee Scholarship, he admits accepting the award brings added pressure.
“It inspires me to do better in my classes and to do more on campus,” said Ragland. “Getting the scholarship kind of puts pressure on me because I had to stand out in order to get it and I’m proud of that, but there is still so much more to do.”
Ragland knows the value of an education and the ability to be in school at this time of his life. “Getting this scholarship lifted a heavy financial burden off of me and my mom, who is a single parent who is also enrolled in college,” he said. His mother is presently a senior at Mississippi Valley State University.
For Vicksburg native Christi Breazeale putting money aside for a new toy or dress was never an option. She starting saving for her college education in the second grade and by the time she was in third grade she had $1,000 in her savings account and thought she was “cool.”
“My dad put my scholarship letter in my room at home. When I opened it I starting screaming and my dad thought there was a mouse in the house because I was screaming so loudly,” she declared.
The mass communication and journalism student is no different than the other Jubilee Scholarship winners. Tough economic times, coupled with expenses related to attending college away from home, have made it necessary to explore a variety of funding opportunities.
“I’m planning to work two jobs this summer and without the Jubilee Scholarship I would have to work more than two jobs,” Breazeale said. “I don’t mind working, but this scholarship is pretty essential to getting up here (at Southern Miss) right now. This has made an impact on my life,” explained the young woman who looks forward to one day becoming a librarian.
There is something to be said for Breazeale beginning her college fund while in the third grade. However, there may be even more to say for a young man who claims to have decided his career path while only a 3-year-old lad. It can be said that 19-year-old Seth Powell has spent all of his life on a mission to sail into the ocean to study its inhabitants.
“I hope to be some big-time marine biologist and I am grateful for the person giving me the money to make it to the next level,” expressed the Honors College student. He explained his career choice was solidified in the ninth grade when his parents bought him his first aquarium. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and this scholarship makes a very big impact on my life because money is tight and there are a lot of costs involved with college,” he said.
Powell, the son of a Hattiesburg minister, is a walk-on member of the Golden Eagle track team. He was at a track meet when his mother sent him a text message sharing the good news concerning the Jubilee Scholarship.
“It’s made me breathe a little easier for the past couple of weeks, it’s been easier to take exams and it also takes the pressure off of my parents,” Powell said.
For 18-year-old Katie Sheridan of Jackson, receiving the Jubilee Scholarship is the answer to a prayer. With a student loan and already working one job on campus plus another off campus, the speech communications major was feeling the stress of paying for her college education. As if that wasn’t enough, add the cruel reality that both of her parents presently have major medical issues making them unable to help with her expenses.
“This scholarship means a lot to me because I am the one responsible for paying all of my college expenses,” she explained. “I never thought I would quit school. I would have to be up to my knees in debt before I quit school. So I say ‘bless your soul and thank you’ to the person who made this scholarship possible. My gratitude is indescribable,” said Sheridan.
Gratitude, appreciation and responsibility are the first sentiments expressed by 19-year-old Donaven McLaurin of Bay Springs, Miss., when he discussed his Jubilee Scholarship award.
“I feel that I should live up to the trust that is being placed in me,” he said. “I don’t want them (the donor or donors) to feel like the money they gave was given in vain. I’m going to push myself to do my best,” he said.
McLaurin was valedictorian of his high school class and has a 4.0 GPA at Southern Miss. In addition to his Jubilee Scholarship, he also has an Academic Excellence Scholarship and is the recipient of the Kelly Jean Cook Scholarship. McLaurin is a biological sciences/pre-pharmacy major, a member of the Afro American Student Organization (AASO), and the AASO Gospel Choir.
“I would really like to thank the donors for their generosity because with college expenses rising, these contributions really make it possible to keep the dream of going to college alive; especially for people like me from a small rural community,” he explained.
The University of Southern Mississippi is committed to developing the potential of its students. The Jubilee Scholarship Program awards assistance to academically promising first-year freshmen who need financial help in order to realize the goal of a college education. The university believes that education provides opportunities to improve the quality of intellectual, social, economic, and personal well-being, and that the opportunity of an education should be available to all who are willing and able to meet its standard of excellence.
President Martha Saunders with Southern Miss Inaugural Class of Jubilee Scholars.
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.