During the spring semester, many Millsaps seniors prepare for the final walk across the seal in the Bowl. The class of 2020, unfortunately, could not participate in the typical Commencement experience, and have found themselves newly graduated in a completely different world from when they first started their time at Millsaps. This new world results from both the global pandemic that has consumed nearly a year of our lives, but also from the unique experiences that helped Millsaps graduates to develop their passions.
A resident of Brandon, Mississippi, Sree Vedala decided to apply for Millsaps after her father’s encouragement. She initially intended to study medicine, but found herself earning a B.A. in Religious Studies with a concentration on interreligious encounters instead.
“When I applied to Millsaps they told me I had to take a Ventures course, and one of the courses that really stood out to me was ‘Does Religion Belong in the Hospital?’. And this, I thought, was perfect, because I really wanted to do medicine at the time and I loved learning about different religions,” explained Sree.
Encouraged by her professors and interested to dig deeper into different cultures, Sree found herself questioning her medical school intentions. After participating in an internship related to the medical field, she finally decided her passion truly lay in Religious Studies. Sree said, “Part of [deciding what I wanted to study] was just freeing up my inhibitions. What I learned at Millsaps is to just accept me for who I am and just to be myself and not care about other people’s expectations.”
Wayne Dowdy, another 2020 graduate who studied both History and Spanish, also found his line of study through a Ventures course. “My Ventures class Freshman year was ‘What does Heritage have to do with History?’. It was with Dr. Stephanie Rolph. So, I took that class and absorbed everything – I have books from that class on my bookshelf right now. After that class I didn’t know I was going to major for history, but that next semester I signed up for two more history classes,” Wayne states.
Sree credits her professors for helping her develop her interests and make her Millsaps experience a positive one. “To be honest, when I came to Millsaps I was just this quiet person in the corner that didn’t talk during Heritage and all those things, and now I’ve turned into whoever I am now. And that has to be because my professors have encouraged me,” she said. “I think Millsaps is a great place for people to discover themselves. And I did not know this when I was coming in, so it was a silent blessing.”
Having decided to take a gap year before going back to school, Sree has her sights set on law school. “I think with my passion for social justice – maybe law. I’ve been looking into law and I have found it really appealing so far and I’m preparing for the LSAT currently, so if I get in, hopefully by Fall 2021 I will be enrolled in law school.”
Sree advises current students to take various courses, and allow themselves to explore their many options. Wayne echoed a similar sentiment, stating: “You can’t do everything. I definitely think there are Millsaps students who try to do everything, but it’s not possible. It’s a give and take. I wish I had taken a creative writing class, I wish I had taken a class with Dr. Pickard, I wish I would’ve gotten involved with the Purple & White earlier, so I think speaking to younger students – this is what I told my little brothers – explore your options, be open to trying new things, and you have to get involved in things because you don’t know if you’ll enjoy it or not if you don’t try it.”
Wayne found himself at Millsaps through his family. “I had family that went to Millsaps – both my parents went there and actually met there,” he said. “So Millsaps was kind of in the back of my brain growing up. I had been to campus before. There’s a picture of me as a little baby out in the baseball field because my uncles were on the baseball team and we went to go watch them play.”
Since graduating, Wayne has been working with technology, a natural next step after his on-campus work with the Millsaps IT department. “Not a people are looking to hire History majors during a pandemic,” he laughed. “But I’ve found a couple things that I’ve been doing in IT stuff.”
Unlike Wayne’s local familial connections to Millsaps, Donovan Johnson was recruited to play football at Millsaps, a few hours away from his Louisiana home.
Donovan earned his undergraduate degree in Communication Studies in December of 2019, and earned his Master’s in Business by May of 2020. Like Sree, he started off with an interest in science, then became involved with the English and Business Departments.
“I thought I was going to be neuroscience, first semester,” Donovan said. “I took cell biology, which is the most basic science class and I struggled . . . it just wasn’t good.” His sophomore year, Donovan enrolled in the introductory course for Communication Studies, and finally found a way to merge his creativity with new ways of studying the world around him. “I took that and I was like ‘Okay, I found the class.’”
Donovan also took English and Creative Writing classes from Dr. Katy Simpson Smith, Dr. Eric Griffin and Dr. Michael Pickard, and used those classes to develop his writing style. “I feel like Millsaps had a lot to do with that, influencing me as a writer,” he said. “I feel like I have a unique writer voice but I have to tone it down in the sense of learning story and structure. . .. Once you learn the game then you can really add in your own flavor. You can tell the difference between people who studied and whose writing grew and went through a progression.”
Since graduating, Donovan has used his writing to fuel his passion for music. On December 21st, he released his music project guaRANTteed, and hinted at future plans in the works. “I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens. I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t necessarily have to be the front stage man.”
Beyond developing skills as a writer, Donovan emphasized a broader effect of his time at Millsaps. “Our education should humanize us more than anything. It should make us be more humble and have more humility and be able to talk to people and just be able to understand,” he said, encouraging current students to express appreciation to their professors and to let their education make them not just smarter human beings, but better human beings.
Caroline, another 2020 graduate, also pursued a creative route at Millsaps. “I knew I wanted to pursue something that involved creative writing,” she stated, “I thought that Millsaps would be a good fit.” In her time at Millsaps, she earned a B.A. in Creative Writing but also involved herself with the Music and Psychology departments on campus, earning a minor in both.
Despite a long-time interest in creative writing, her experience at Millsaps exposed her to different experiences that eventually helped her find other areas of interest. “Creative writing is something I enjoy, and some good advice I received was to pursue a career that involves things you enjoy – that way, your professional career won’t be something you dread. I initially intended to use the Creative Writing B.A. to pursue a career like music journalism, but I later found out that journalism wasn’t really my thing, so to speak. Instead, I found a growing interest in coding and graphic design through the Eudora Welty Fellowship and meeting Arden Barnett.”
Now enrolled in a Master’s program for Media Design, Caroline intends to pursue a career in graphic and web design to integrate her artistic abilities with her skills in computer coding. Her professors at Millsaps, including Liz Egan, the director of the Writing Center, encouraged her to pursue her interests outside of her degree pathway. “While I did work on helping students develop their writing, Liz did not stop me from exploring my other interests. She encouraged it, and she was willing to give me some projects that would be centered on those interests,” explained Caroline.
“My advice would be to feel free to explore your interests, no matter how different from your current choice of study,” Caroline commented. “Developing other skills and gaining experience with other things exposes you to different ideas and aspects of the world. You could find something that you really enjoy that you might not have considered before and apply it in a creative way to what you’re doing now.”
If there appears to be one similarity in these four experiences, it would be that you may not end up where you expect to. Staying open to new experiences may not only allow you to find a feasible career, but a career you can be passionate about.