Monday, March 30, 2015

Residual Sparkle from the Proximity to Jewels

                This past weekend my college held Homecoming, as we do each spring.  Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out this year and I was very sad to miss this wonderful event.
                Whenever anyone meets me, they always ask where I’m from; usually because of my accent.  When presented with that question, I never know what to say.  As we have discussed before, my parents were nomadic Southern Baptists and we moved on the average of every two years until I graduated high school and I have moved about that often through college and my career.
                Since I am not from anywhere specific and people try their best to pinpoint the exact source of my finely muddled Southern accent, I usually say, “I was born in Louisiana and grew up in Mississippi and East Texas”.  I graduated high school in Tylertown, Mississippi, but I didn’t move there until the summer between my sophomore and junior years, so I don’t necessarily feel that hometown connection.  Don’t get me wrong, I have connections to very special people who I love and with whom I stay in touch but Tylertown itself doesn’t foster a sense of place for me.  In my life, home is a nebulous concept, but when I take a deep breath and I ask myself, what is the one place in the world I feel at home, I am transported to the lovely and historic campus of Mississippi University for Women.
                MUW or, The W, as we call it, is where I came into myself as a person; where I grew up (a little bit); where I found out it was okay to be me.  I won’t get into the details as there are far too many memories to disclose so I will talk about muscle memory.  The heart is a muscle and my heart is at The W.  Columbus proper may house the school, but The W’s campus is where I find my roots.
                I will be eternally grateful to Andi Simmons for suggesting I attend Scholar’s Day in 1990.  About to graduate from Southwest Mississippi Community College and unsure of where to go and afraid to admit I was lost, I ignored the questions of my father about going to a “woman college” and headed to Columbus.  I enjoyed the weekend and even volunteered at the concession stand at the dance getting to know Rosemary Hayslett in the process.  She convinced me to come to school there and introduced me to Dr. Clyda Rent, who graciously offered scholarships and grants that covered all my expenses except chili cheese fries.  And with that, I embarked on a life-changing adventure.
                The first public university for women in America, MUW has been referred to as a jewel in Mississippi for many, many years.  Their focus on educating and empowering women is intact and as one of the “smart men, too” who were fortunate enough to spend time there, I am grateful that The W’s mission, and name, remain unchanged.
                When men are empowered, they focus on conquering.  When women are empowered, they focus on empowering others.   And empower me they did.  I arrived at my new home a loud, dorky, brightly-colored mama’s boy with a false bravado that was misinterpreted by many as arrogance.  My need for acceptance was palpable; my use of Halston Z-14 was asthma-inducing. 
                I have an exceptional memory, which is both good and bad.  The good is that I distinctly remember friendships and crushes and outings to the trestle, quasi-illegal tunneling, midnight snack runs, dancing at The Club and Classix and paying for Taco Bell with coins we found in the ashtrays of our cars.  I cherish all those times I stayed up all night having the most amazing conversations about life and everything and nothing.  Conversely, I can close my eyes and picture with uncomfortable lucidity each time I betrayed a confidence, gossiped out of jealousy or hatefulness, held a grudge, kept secrets and told secrets, had my heart broken and broke someone else’s heart; all those things that make us blush with embarrassment when we allow ourselves to remember.      
               Throughout my three years, these jewels, my jewels, always forgave and afforded me acceptance on a scale never before imagined or experienced.   They taught me it was okay to be me and we could be broken together and be amazing together because at the end of the day we were together.  Twenty-two years later, that sense of togetherness lingers.
                Most of my influential teachers and mentors have been women and I don’t know if that was by happenstance or design but I have learned so much about looking at the world from a woman’s point of view, because, make no mistake, it is a different view; a needed view.
           In the last few years those in leadership positions in federal service, have been encouraged to embrace servant leadership as the right way to lead.  And I agree.  What I find humorous is servant leadership, at its very roots, is simply teaching men to think and act more like women.  To nurture, to not focus on who gets credit, to stop fighting for power and fight for what's right, to share leadership, to stop trying to be perfect and simply try to shine…like a jewel. 
             I will forever thank God for placing me in the exact spot at the precise moment that would change the course of my life.  If you know me, you know I’m a little on the sparkly side and while that didn’t start at MUW, the residual effects of my time amongst these wonderful jewels makes my sparkle so much deeper because MUW gave me clarity of self and of purpose.
            It’s a unique experience being an MUW alum and it’s not something that is easily explainable to those who aren’t.  There is an unpayable debt I owe these phenomenal women (and men) and it is something my heart won’t forget and even when I’m not with them in person, I am forever celebrating my connection to the long blue line. 
            And that’s all I’m saying for now.


  1. It is a unique experience indeed - a prolonged one for me - 18 years to finish 4, but worth every minute of it.

  2. Like you, the W first helped me become myself. I've had more in an ongoing journey. Your piece of prose moved me. I missed Homecoming this year too!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed it. I will definitely be at homecoming next year. I hope to see you there.

  3. Great piece, Dusty! Isn't it interesting that "home" isn't always where you expect to find it? Blessings~

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is interesting about home. I used to wish I had lived inthe same town my whole life but then I wouldn't be me, so I'm glad it worked out like it did. That Jesus fella knows his stuff, right?