The power of positivity


On Monday nights, I make the short drive from my house to my alma mater, William Carey University, to teach a group of freshmen students about time management, study skills, and reading comprehension.

I usually arrive early and spend some time on the campus, walking through the Chain Garden, admiring the new construction, grabbing a coffee at Common Grounds, sitting on the benches by the statue of Jesus (jokingly referred to as “Touchdown Jesus” because of the positioning of the arms), or visiting friends and co-workers.

The campus looks very different from the Carey I first visited in 2008 and enrolled at as a junior in 2010. During my time as a student and later as the media relations and marketing director, several new buildings were added to the campus.

However, it was the EF3 tornado of January 2017 that so radically altered Carey’s physical appearance. My favorite building, the historic Tatum Court, was one of the tornado’s casualties.

I was near the campus a few hours after the tornado. In early 2016, I left my role at Carey for a new job at a local foodservice distributor. My office was on Edwards Street, just a mile or so from the university, and it was also devastated by the tornado’s violent impact.

After struggling to gather personal effects from my ruined office, I made the short walk through the chaos and debris to the university. What I saw left me wide-eyed and open-mouthed. The campus looked like ground zero of an atomic bomb explosion.

Like many others, I wondered if Carey could survive such devastation.

At the time, I was writing a revision to Donna Duck Wheeler’s 2006 Carey history book, and I privately wondered if my addition to the book would document the closing chapter of Carey’s 125 years. I’ve never been accused of being an optimist; I tend to view the glass as half empty, and that was certainly the case in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

What I didn’t fully consider, or fully appreciate, was the power of the united Carey community, including a devoted alumni base, students who were ready to return to class, and optimistic employees with plans for the future.

The Carey motto, taken from a sermon given by its namesake, is “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” The Carey community is full of people who live out those words.

My pessimistic attitude didn’t stand a chance as the community united behind their beloved university.

As the #CareyStrong hashtag invaded social media and as recovery workers started the difficult task of rebuilding, my thoughts turned to the possibilities of Carey’s bright future.

Two weeks after the tornado, I wrote a newspaper column in The Hattiesburg Post about the recovery and said, “It will not be an easy or quick recovery, but Carey will rebuild. Its picturesque campus will one day be whole again – different, but with its same qualities: a beautiful, safe school offering a valuable education in a Christian environment.”

The next line of that column was, “Carey will continue to be a place for the next generation of bright-eyed and eager students to find hope and peace within its gates.” I’ve often told people Carey’s appeal to me is the serenity I feel whenever I visit the campus. Those peaceful feelings aren’t because of handsome buildings or beautiful landscaping but are the result of that loving and supportive community.

Thankfully, the Carey community accepts recovering pessimists like me and teaches us the power of a positive outlook. A few weeks ago, Carey welcomed a huge new freshman class and raised the clock tower on a beautiful new Tatum Court. My students are already proud of their future alma mater and are excited about the things to come.

I am, too. Take that, pessimism.


Joshua Wilson is the primary author of “William Carey University: Celebrating 125 Years,” published in 2017 by Arcadia Publishing as part of their Campus History Series. He is an adjunct instructor at Carey and is the art and marketing manager at Munn Enterprises, Inc., in Hattiesburg.