College!?!

By JAMIE MASSENGALE,

Time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin into the future. -– “Fly Like An Eagle” by Steve Miller Band

Well, I did it. I finally graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. Sure, it took me a little longer than I planned, but I made it. And I made a lot of great friends along the way.

Now everyone I know keeps coming up to me and asking me, “now what?”

Now is the time for me to reflect on my college career here in Hattiesburg. Many of my friends don’t know exactly how long this crazy journey has been.

I moved to Hattiesburg in 2001 to start college at the University of Southern Mississippi. My initial major was Music Composition. I had big dreams of following in the footsteps of my family and becoming a professional musician or music teacher.

A lot of my more recent classmates tell me that while I was attending my first year at Southern, they were still in Kindergarten when they remember the twin towers falling. I was on my way home from University 101.

Those first couple of semesters were a blur. I failed out of school and wasted my father’s money. I lived off campus and wanted to party more than study.

This is a common occurrence for some who go to college right out of high school. I was extremely eager to move away from Meridian. Maybe I wasn’t prepared for college as well as I could have been, but I still wanted to come to USM.

My first semester GPA was barely 0.5 and while I was enrolled in school, I rarely attended class. The following semester I completely flunked out of school with all F’s.

That's when my father told me he would no longer provide for me financially and it was time for me to grow up. Tough love is what I have always called it.

My roommate at the time said if I were going to keep living in the house that I needed to start helping pay the rent. That’s when I had to start getting that real-world education. I had to get a job to work so I could afford to live in a shanty.

I started working in the kitchen at the Hattiesburg County Club. I made a lot of friends over the years who are still some of my closest friends to this day. I would watch as many friends and coworkers would attend college and graduate and move on to better jobs.

There was a semester that I tried to go back to USM and redeem myself in the spring of 2005, but I still came up short and was still placed on academic probation. I still wasn’t ready.

I continued to work at the country club and other various places around town until 2007, when I decided to leave the country club to work at Dukes, Dukes, and Wood Law Office in downtown Hattiesburg.

While working at the law firm, I continued to look out the window and watch time slip by. With every beginning of each school term I would consider going back to school, and then I would decide against it.

At one point, I decided to take night classes at Pearl River Community College and slowly get back into school by being enrolled part-time. My head was still not in the right place and I ended up dropping few classes.

There was a turning point a little over five years ago when a friend of mine encouraged me to get back in school. I made the decision that if I were to go back to school, I needed to go full time and during some of my usual work hours. I had to dedicate my life to my studies and put in the work.

Luckily, Mr. Dukes and everyone at the law office was very supportive and encouraging.

I started back at Pearl River in Hattiesburg and everything finally started to click.

I was putting forth a real effort and started making good grades. I was making the President's List on a consistent basis and enjoying my classes and my teachers.

After two years, I'd earned an associate’s degree and was ready to go back to Southern Miss to try to redeem myself.

It was the beginning of an uphill battle and I had to first talk with many people to get back enrolled at USM.

I decided to go into media production in the School of Mass Communication and Journalism. I thought it was fitting since I enjoyed working on projects rather than writing essays.

Prior to my first day back at USM, I got an email expressing that I may not be eligible for financial aid due to my academic probation from years ago.

I spoke with Mr. Dukes about it and he told me he would make a phone call to see if there was someone at the school I could talk to.

I came back later and Mr. Dukes had apparently set up an appointment for me to meet Dr. Rodney Bennett. Straight to the top!

My first day back at USM I had to go meet Dr. Bennett in his office when it was in the Trent Lott Building.

Walking into that building and taking the stairs up to his office blew my mind (If you haven't been in the Trent Lott Building, there's a large glass spiral staircase and a long glass catwalk up on the top floor).

Dr. Bennett and I had a meeting for maybe five minutes where he'd called financial aid and gotten my transcripts and just reassured me that the wheels were in motion and my financial aid just hadn't gone through yet.

Talking with Dr. Bennett was very reassuring, and I was extremely excited to be back at Southern Miss.

The first few semesters back, I kept grinding and made the President's List and slowly brought my cumulative GPA up.

I was enjoying taking classes like radio production and video production. 

I got on the staff at the Student Printz as a writer and joined the staff at WUSM as a DJ and remote broadcaster.

This time around, I kept going to class and working to earn this degree that I have finally achieved.

I want my journey to teach the lesson that it's never too late to go back to school. It's never too late to set goals that you can achieve.

So now what?

Now what?

I don’t know…

The sky is the limit. I have been putting so much pressure on myself to get to this finish line.

Now it's time to start the next race. Now is the time for me to set a new goal.

I have some ideas in the works but nothing I will divulge now.

Now is the time to get to work.

Jamie Massengale is a recent graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor of Arts degree in media production. He is 36 years old and lives in Hattiesburg.

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