This month, students across the globe graduated from their colleges or universities. These graduates have spent countless hours studying, giving presentations and otherwise working hard to earn their degrees so that they may be better equipped to enter their chosen fields.
We at the Jackson Free Press know that many graduates dream of stepping across the stage to receive their diplomas, but because not everyone ended up fortunate enough to do so this year, the JFP wanted to provide a means of honoring graduates who either completed their studies at a Jackson-based institution or who call the Jackson metro their home but chose to further their educations elsewhere.
Thus, the JFP has devised this inaugural feature. We introduce to you, your Rad Grads 2020! Congrats, grads.
Since childhood, Brandon native Margaree Jackson has held an interest in foreign languages and cultures. These interests culminated in her bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and political science at the University of Mississippi, where she recently graduated.
“I decided to major in Spanish to further my knowledge of the Spanish language and also to enable me to better connect with the Spanish-speaking and Latino community, not only in Mississippi but also in the United States and abroad,” she says.
Jackson chose Latin American politics as her academic focus.
On campus, Jackson served as a conversation partner and group connect leader for the International and American Student Alliance, as president of the Undergraduate Black Law Student Association and as an interpreter for the Mississippi Immigrant Defense Coalition.
UM awarded Jackson with a full scholarship and stipend toward earning her master’s degree in modern languages with a specialization in Spanish. She is considering more education to become a bilingual or English-as-a-second-language instructor.
Eventually, the 22-year-old aspires to start a nonprofit organization that focuses on education equity and culture-based learning.
“I think it’s important because I have noticed a lot of inequities in the educational system, specifically for the black and brown students,” she says. “There’s a lack of teaching that is representative of different cultures, so I believe it is important to push for education that teaches students about their cultures and where they come from.”
For fun, Jackson enjoys reading, traveling and watching Spanish television programs, such as “Undercover Law.” —Nate Schumann
Sree Maha Lakshmi Vedala
Sree Maha Lakshmi Vedala says she owes Millsaps College for changing her life. The priest’s kid from Brandon graduated from the private Jackson institution with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies.
During her senior year, Vedala earned the Frank and Rachel Anne Laney Award, which goes to the graduating senior who has written the finest essay about the value of receiving a liberal-arts education. In her essay, Vedala wrote about her experience at Millsaps and expressed gratitude to the professors who made her feel at home and pushed her academically.
Vedala’s professors encouraged her to pursue an honors project.
The project focused on social-justice issues like colorism, gender inequality, and racial discrimination in India and how Hindu religious symbols could be more inclusive.
“They would encourage me to enter essay contests and writing competitions, and doing so helped me gain more confidence,” she says of her profs.
“… They helped me pursue my honors project. My honors project actually ended up getting the Phi Beta Kappa Award for best thesis presentation. That would have never happened if it wasn’t for my professors encouraging me along the way.”
Like many college students, Vedala says she feels incomplete because she had to finish her coursework online due to the pandemic.
“I was really looking forward to my last days on campus,” she says. “I’m hoping that I’ll be able to return. I still have library books to return, so hopefully I’ll be able to go back to campus one day.”
Until then, Vedala is surveying her options for the future. Medical school is one possibility she is considering. —Alyssa Bass
Houston Sneed, a recent graduate of Tougaloo College, says that the academic institutions he attended in his hometown of Batesville, Miss., did not necessarily push him and other African American students to pursue opportunities to further their education.
“I don’t think they motivate the black kids enough to go on to college,” he says.
In choosing to attend Tougaloo, though, Sneed ended up finding the encouragement he needed through friends and professors to motivate himself into completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“I really got the most love when I got to college,” Sneed says. “Tougaloo gave me the most support.”
As someone who enjoys being actively involved on campus, Sneed held memberships with the Reuben V. Anderson Pre-Law Society, the Student Government Association, the NAACP, the American Association of University Women and the Tougaloo Toastmasters, which is a program that builds professional skills in students and allows them opportunities to practice them.
Being so widely known at school awarded Sneed the student vote to be named Mr. Tougaloo. He credits his win to his regular efforts to be genuine and sincere with everyone he meets, as well as his love for being around people.
“I became Mr. Tougaloo because I was … never the type to run with just one set of people. I was involved with different groups on campus,” he says. “I was very active and social on campus, from day one.”
While he is currently deciding between job offers for the next phase of his life, down the road Sneed would like to join the FBI as an agent and forensic investigator to make a difference in types of cases that do not always receive justice.
In his spare time, Sneed enjoys skating, barbecuing with friends, and attending stage productions such as “The Color Purple” and “Hamilton.” —Nate Schumann
Shelby Brewer admits that she had a hard time adjusting to Mississippi State University. The graduate from Madison came to the university after attending a private school, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, where she knew almost everyone. After about two years, though, she says she was finally able to make connections with her friends and professors.
These connections not only assisted Brewer in obtaining a 4.0 cumulative GPA, but also in gaining confidence in her chosen major, agribusiness.
“Looking at the classes that I’ve had in college, they’ve been very easily majority male. There would be two or three, probably five max, girls in any given class of 30 to 50. That was an interesting thing after being in high school (that had) pretty even ratios, but I think that was actually one reason why I was also interested in agribusiness,” she says. “I think it’s a great time for women to be in that field.”
While at Mississippi State, Brewer enjoyed being a member of the Agricultural Economics Quiz Bowl team. She says the team allowed her to consistently learn and challenge herself for out-of-state competitions.
“I’m a huge nerd,” she says. “The moment I went in that room and sat down, it felt like I was among kindred spirits.”
Brewer is planning to attend graduate school for agricultural economics at State in the fall. In the future, she hopes to find a career in the field that focuses on natural resource management and conservation. —Alyssa Bass
Prior to enrolling in college, Christiana Ogletree was looking for a Christian university far enough away from her home in Gulfport to allow her to gain some independence. This month, Ogletree earned her bachelor’s degree in English writing at Mississippi College, where she tutored other students in the school’s writing center.
“Words are an exceptional way to express emotion, to capture moments, and to do all these things that I don’t necessarily always feel I’m able to do through speech or other mediums,” she says.
Ogletree’s journey to independence eventually took her to London, where she traveled for a study-abroad trip two summers ago. While she was on a subway, she wrote a poem entitled “London Underground Poetry.” The poem was published in Mississippi’s College’s literary magazine, The Arrowhead, of which she became the editor-in-chief this last academic year.
Although Ogletree says she was merely trying to capture how she felt in that moment using her phone’s notes app, she says it felt good to know that readers could transport themselves to that same moment on the subway.
The 21-year-old says studying abroad was the defining moment of her college career. In London, she realized she wanted to attend law school, where she hopes to pursue civil-rights or public interest law.
Ogletree is on the waiting list at Harvard Law School and is planning to attend Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., if Harvard doesn’t work out. Wherever she goes, Ogletree says she hopes “to make an impact on the world, as cheesy as that sounds.” —Alyssa Bass
Kobe Van Someren
With little more than a backpack, a couple cans of soup, a Bible, a journal and a water bottle, Kobe Van Someren spent 99 hours during his college career at Belhaven University on the streets of Jackson among members of the homeless community.
Why? For more than a year at the time, the Caledonia, Miss., native had been involved with Jackson Street Ministry, a group of Christians from various denominations who help and share their faith with the disenfranchised. Frustrated with the perceptions many people held about the homeless community and wanting to be a better advocate for the group, Van Someren decided to walk a mile (or several) in their shoes.
“Going out, walking the streets of Jackson, and living on the streets helped me gain insight as to how (the homeless) live day-to-day and how people interact with them on a daily basis,” he says.
The 22-year-old says the experience helped him discover a passion for coming to understand others who have different cultures than his own, which prompted him to pursue and obtain his bachelor’s degree in intercultural studies.
His inclination toward missions led him to visit Zimbabwe, Iraq, Paris, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Brazil to share his faith and learn from other cultures.
At school, Van Someren was involved in the Belhaven Leadership Council and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program.
Post-graduation, he hopes to raise enough funds to be able to undergo mission work in the Middle East within the next two years.
“At the end of the day, what I want to be is a minister of the gospel,” he says. —Nate Schumann
Jaylon Uzodinma says he doesn’t understand why Jackson State University is under-estimated, from his perception. It’s a place of opportunity, he says. The graduate, a Madison native, earned a 4.0 cumulative GPA, a bachelor’s degree in physics and five full scholarship offers to graduate school. He intends to become an aerospace engineer.
After spending summers at research programs at the University of Alabama and Georgia Institute of Technology, Uzodinma became accustomed to being one of the few minorities in the room.
“Being the only minority in the room definitely inspired me to want to inspire others to enter STEM,” he says. “When you’re at another university for the summer, you’re being compared to kids that may attend larger universities in different places. I take it as a challenge to show that I’m just as good as anyone else.”
His experiences gave him the confidence to apply to graduate programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State A&T, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Stanford University, specifically in their nationally recognized aerospace programs.
Uzodinma says incoming freshmen can be successful anywhere.
“Students need to know that no matter where you go to college, what you accomplish in life has more to do with you than a college you go to,” he says. “Of course, you want to find a place where you’re comfortable, but there’s a lot of opportunities anywhere. You just have to find those opportunities and then invest your time into bettering yourself each and every day.” —Alyssa Bass
When Litonia Angrum continually taps on her glass, Moriah Angrum takes the cup and refills it for her aunt. When Litonia taps her plate twice, she’s done with her food. Moriah smiles and takes the dishes to wash them.
This system is one that Moriah, who recently graduated from Delta State University, devised after learning about classical conditioning in high school to help her mentally disabled aunt better communicate her needs to her family.
Since Litonia is fully disabled, Moriah assists her by bathing her, getting her dressed, preparing her food and assisting her while walking. The 23-year-old Terry, Miss., native has had an active role in caring for her aunt since she was in elementary school, which influenced her choice to obtain her bachelor’s degree in social work. She plans to attend Jackson State University this fall to work toward a master’s in the field.
“When I watched the news (growing up), I would see people with disabilities who are being exploited or abused, and I wanted to make a difference for that population,” she says.
At DSU, Angrum held memberships with Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Student Government Association and the school’s social-work club.
In addition, Angrum has raised money for DSU’s Statemen’s Shelf food pantry and earned the title of Miss Delta State.
After completing her education, Angrum wants to open up her own “day-hab” program for adults and children who have mental disabilities where they can have a change of scenery and work on problem areas.
If able, she would like to expand that program throughout the country.
She also aspires to lobby for people with disabilities on Capitol Hill. —Nate Schumann
When Lauren Tonos was completing a clinical at G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, wherein she personally observed the treatment of patients, a veteran opened up to her about his time in the Army. Tonos remembers listening intently to figure out what she should incorporate into his occupational therapy plan. When she saw the veteran again, she was with her instructor.
The veteran looked at Tonos’ instructor and said: “She really listens. I can tell she really cares about her patients.”
Tonos says she has fallen in love with the holistic experience that occupational therapy provides for her patients. The Madison resident earned her master’s degree in occupational therapy this month from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
She plans to get married in June and then stay in Mississippi for two years while her fiancé finishes medical school. Although she says finding occupational-therapy jobs is difficult right now due to COVID-19, she is continuing to seek opportunities.
“(Occupational) therapists will be needed at some point. This is just a wall that we have to use to build up our skills and the talents that we have now,” Tonos says. “There is beauty in this time. We can reflect on how we can best prepare for our first job as new grads. We’ll probably never get this time back again once we get a new job. The working world never stops.” —Alyssa Bass
Many students find college to be a time of self-discovery and expression. Holly Wright, who recently graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in English, used her tenure at the Hattiesburg-based institution to forge a core group of friends who share common interests, like video games and anime.
Attending comic and anime conventions with these friends inspired her to take up a new hobby, cosplaying, which is the practice of dressing up as a character from books, television, video games and other media. Characters she has cosplayed include Mabel from “Gravity Falls” and Hilda from the Netflix animated series of the same name, among others.
Most of the cosplayers Wright has met have charitably offered her encouragement and advice for perfecting her costume-creation skills. “I like how positive the community can mostly be—how everyone just wants everybody to be able to have the materials,” she says. “There’s a lot of help that goes around, and I really appreciate that, especially for a somewhat beginner like me.”
Born and raised in Jackson, Wright graduated from Hillcrest Christian School and then attended Hinds Community College before transferring to USM. At Hinds, she was a member of the collegiate choir, chamber choir and jazz ensemble, and she served as secretary for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance. She joined USM’s chapter of the GSA when she transferred.
Because the pandemic derailed her immediate plans for the future, Wright, who says she is “super interested in the craft of writing” and who has spent time as an editor with Hinds’ writing center, is currently on the hunt for internship or job opportunities that would let her use her English degree. —Nate Schumann
Murrah High School alum Jahkia Gray says she has a passion for interacting with people, a demeanor that ultimately conferred upon her the honors of Best Dressed, Student Leader of the Year and Miss Alcorn State before she graduated from Alcorn State University this month with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
During her tenure as Miss Alcorn, the Jackson native helped coordinate campus events and facilitated the student food pantry, as well as other responsibilities to help maintain the university’s friendly atmosphere.
“Alcorn is known as a very homey environment, so I was in charge of making sure that stayed intact,” Gray says.
The 22-year-old held memberships with Alcorn’s chapters of the Impact Communities Service Organization, the National Society of Leadership and Success, and the Student Government Association, as well as Alcorn’s student ambassadors and biology club.
While she originally pursued her degree to become a physical therapist, campaigning for Miss Alcorn State helped her realize that she actually wants to enter the field of pharmaceutical sales.
“I really love and have an eye for marketing and the sales industry,” she says. “I have all these bright ideas when it comes to sales, and I know how to talk to people to get my point across.”
Lately, Gray has worked with local hair businesses to hone their branding and marketing strategies and “take them to the next level.”
To further her goals, Gray is presently reviewing graduate-school programs that could help her attain a successful career in pharmaceutical sales. —Nate Schumann
At Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Douglas Campbell earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in computer science and the other in classical studies, studying ancient history and languages. The Jackson native says he never doubted that attending college out of state was best for him.
The graduate is especially thankful for one of his math professors, Cheryl Grood, who helped him improve his math scores for the classes he needed to pursue his computer-science degree.
“Mississippi isn’t really known for its academics, so I didn’t exactly have the best math background,” he says.
As Campbell continued to take the classes needed for his degree, he also took on more hands-on opportunities. At the university, he worked in the computer-science department alongside the system administrator and helped to streamline administrator duties with new software.
Last summer, he interned at Workday, a software company based in California. Campbell plans to work there in the fall and build his coding skills.
“The work itself was perfect for me because it was right in the niche area where I thrive,” he says. “Most software engineers do application stuff where you might hear terms like blockchain and crypto or AI and neural nets, but my area was more system-related things, like getting underneath the hood of a car.”
In his free time, Campbell plans to improve his Greek and Latin skills and continue his thesis research, which focuses on the ancient Mycenaean Greek language.—Alyssa Bass