From Earning Two Diplomas to Researching ‘Family Trees,’ MC’s Class of 2022 Leaves Lasting Legacy
It’s hard to be in two places at once, but when degrees are conferred on members of Mississippi College’s Class of 2022, Wesley Thomas will have more than one spot in line.
During his four years at MC, Thomas, a resident of Clinton, earned two distinct degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Science in Business.
Thankfully, the School of Sciences and Mathematics and the School of Business will hand out diplomas to their respective graduating students at different times. So, the only downside to his uncommon academic achievement will be having to sit through two graduation ceremonies.
Thomas said that might be too much to ask of family members who plan to watch him receive his diplomas.
“I’ve already told my grandparents they only have to come to one ceremony,” Thomas said with a laugh.
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As every genealogist knows, tracing one’s ancestors can be an exercise in frustration, but Peyton Scoggin discovered following a “family tree” can bring a group closer than he could have imagined.
The Hattiesburg native, business administration major, and president of the Shawreth Order, a brotherhood of male students at MC that promotes the ideals of a Biblical, Christ-like lifestyle and standard for excellence, set out to research the “family lines” of big brothers and little brothers throughout the organization. Before he knew it, he had embarked on a project that would involve compiling detailed information on all 511 former members of the group.
“I realized I had amassed the biggest store of contact information anyone in Shawreth had ever had,” Scoggin said. “I knew I couldn’t let that go to waste, so I decided to create a directory consisting of phone numbers, email addresses, current cities and states they live in, and everyone’s degrees and professions.
“It’s like having our own personal LinkedIn.”
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Thomas and Scoggin represent more than 500 exceptional members of the MC Class of 2022 whose determination, tenacity, and faith have helped them complete their journey to undergraduate, graduate, and terminal degrees. Their accomplishments will be celebrated during MC’s Central Commencement, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 5, on the Quad. The ceremony will include live music, special awards, and the Alumni Charge. In the event of inclement weather, Central Commencement will take place in the A.E. Wood Coliseum.
Degrees will be conferred to MC students during their respective schools’ graduation ceremonies on Friday, May 6: the Schools of Business, Christian Studies and the Arts, and Humanities and Social Sciences at 10 a.m.; the Schools of Nursing, Sciences and Mathematics, and Interdisciplinary Studies at 1 p.m.; and the School of Education at 4 p.m.
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Thomas, who earned college credit from advanced placement courses in high school, plunged into his studies at MC, setting an academic pace sufficient to complete the Biological Sciences Degree Track in three years. Yet he wasn’t ready to leave the Christian University – or his undergraduate lifestyle – so soon.
“School is important, grades are important, but I also love being involved and plugged in on campus,” he said. “I wouldn’t have enjoyed college as much without the things that I do and the friends that I have made.”
Obtaining an additional degree in business required studying two distinctly different curricula. Thomas, who has his sights set on running his own dentistry practice one day, remembered the trusted advice of his mentor, Clinton dentist Dr. John Goolsby.
“He had always said he wished he had more business background when he started his practice,” Thomas said. “That led me to decide to get a second degree in business.”
His decision was supported by his academic advisers – Dr. Jerry Reagan, professor of biology, and Dr. Marcelo Eduardo, The Anderson Distinguished Professor of Finance and dean of the School of Business – who helped tailor a schedule to accommodate the exacting requirements of both majors.
“Wesley is an exceptional student who had the foresight and discipline to pursue two very demanding paths,” Eduardo said. “There is no question that most pre-dentistry majors understand conceptually the great benefit and advantage that having a strong business background would provide them in their future practice. The impediment is having the discipline, time management, and commitment to train in both areas.
“This requires a singular talent and Wesley fits that description. He will benefit greatly from his business education once he begins his practice, and all his hard work will pay off.”
There was little overlap between class requirements for biology and business, but Thomas joked that one educational pursuit did bleed over into the other, at least one time.
“During my last semester, I was taking virology and management information systems,” he said. “We were talking about medical viruses in one class, and then we were talking about computer viruses in another, so I had to think twice to keep them from getting a little jumbled in my head.
“Generally, all of my science classes would fall on one day, and all my business classes would fall on another. That helped me keep them separate.”
Which was the more difficult degree to earn?
“Biology was more challenging for me,” he said. “Business had challenging classes, but nothing compared to the biology courses.”
To round out his daunting academic schedule – Thomas would take anywhere from 18 to 21 hours of classes each semester – he served as Civitan Men’s Club president, director of the Campus Programming Board, Welcome Week director, and Orientation director this year. He credits the extracurricular activities for helping him develop leadership skills to complement his impressive classroom credentials.
“It’s been a lot, but it’s been fun,” he said. “You can achieve in the classroom, but that can be a problem if you can’t hold a conversation with someone.
“It’s been a good experience to lead different organizations, to think ahead, make mistakes, fail at times, but learn from that experience. It’s good to figure out my leadership abilities here in college instead of trying to discover them later on. It’s a worthwhile experience.”
While he awaits word whether he’ll be accepted into the School of Dentistry at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Thomas knows he has a head start on his dream, thanks to his second degree.
“Without the business classes, I’d have no idea what I was doing when it comes time to start a practice,” he said. “I have a good foundation, and I won’t be going in blind from a business perspective. I know all the basic things without which I would have been lost.”
As his undergraduate days draw to a close, Thomas has one final social event to help stage: the Campus Programming Board’s first Farewell Week. He said the event will be a poignant time for him to reflect on the struggles and triumphs of his undergraduate career.
“It’s bittersweet, hanging out with the guys one last time,” he said. “It’s an interesting time with a lot of emotions.”
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When he rushed Shawreth and made his way through various officer positions, serving as sergeant-at-arms, vice-president, and ultimately president, Scoggin never set out to compile the ultimate catalog of his club’s members. He merely wanted to understand exactly where he fit in the group.
As a freshman, he had a “dysfunctional” family line. So Scoggin decided to trace his “family tree” in the organization to see how he could go. To his surprise, he was able to go back several generations – almost to the club’s founding in 1988.
When he became sergeant-at-arms during his junior year, Scoggin wanted to trace the line of Shawreth members who had formerly served in that position. He discovered there wasn’t much information available in the club’s records, so he set out once again to track down as far back as he could go.
“By the time I became vice president, I had a pretty good database worth of people I had met from tracing my family line and past sergeants over the last three years,” Scoggin said. But when he looked at the Shawreth History, a history of the club that Drew Ahlrich, a former president, had recently compiled, he noticed some material was missing – information “holes” he might be able to plug by contacting some of the past Shawreth members whose data he had compiled, and ask for their help.
“I went on what has become a six-month process,” he said.
He began by texting everyone whose telephone number was already in his contact list, providing the names of former Shawreth members who had been lost to antiquity, and asking for any available information they had on them. As the responses began to trickle in, he entered the new information into his database, then contacted the newly revealed former members with a similar request.
It was a painstaking process that uncovered more than a few discrepancies, especially among the oldest club members.
“The hardest part was in the earlier years. We didn’t have a list of everybody in the rush classes, and it was especially difficult in the rush classes before members had cell phones,” Scoggin said. “We had to rely on who they remembered was in their rush class and in the class before them. I wrote every name I could find and a paragraph of notes with details on everyone I was still trying to track down.”
Once he had contacted as many former members as possible and filled in the names of members from every rush class since 1998, he then began the task of tracing all the family lines.
“That’s where people’s memories were really off,” he jokingly said. “For example, on many occasions, multiple people may have claimed to have the same person to be their big brother, or they weren’t sure whether someone had been their little brother or someone else’s entirely.
“A couple of liberties had to be taken while doing all the ‘bigs’ and ‘littles,’ but I managed to complete it all.”
Once he had everyone’s information from the family lines, Scoggin realized he had the largest collection of Shawreth contacts anyone had ever amassed. So, he began putting together a directory for all succeeding members of the club to treasure and keep current.
The resulting work is critically important to sustaining the organization’s legacy, according to Dr. Evan Lenow, director of church and minister relations and director of event services at MC and a charter member of Shawreth.
“Shawreth has done better than most in keeping records, but there were significant gaps,” Lenow said. “People would graduate, leave, move off, and naturally, they would lose track over time. That’s what Peyton discovered. While he had the names of officers and some contact information for some alumni who had stayed nearby, the club had lost track of a lot of folks who had moved away.
“The charter members really wanted to establish an organization that would last and stay true to its mission for generations. Having these connections through the history of the club all the way back to the charter members ensures that connection to the original purpose and mission of Shawreth will continue.”
Scoggin estimates the project took from 300 to 400 hours to complete – not to mention the time he devoted to the organization as an officer and to his classwork. Many times, he encountered his share of setbacks, but managed to persevere, despite mounting frustration.
“There were so many times I wanted to give up,” he said. “Half of the time, I just wanted to pick up my laptop, throw it against the wall, and say, ‘I’m done with this.’
“But there was still a giant hole to fill. And once I had traced the rush classes back from 2018 to 2003, I knew that I was about halfway through. If I stopped there, I was afraid no one would be willing to pick up the torch.”
So, he continued. And the reward for all his hard work? Gratitude.
“The Alumni of Shawreth have shown me overwhelming kindness,” he said. “Once I started talking with all these people, I heard all their fun stories. A lot of people offered to take me for a cup of coffee. There are hundreds of people with whom I feel completely comfortable picking up the phone, calling, and talking about anything I might need.
“It’s amazing to see how Shawreth has grown and changed over the decades as every year, a new rush class comes in and another one graduates out.”
Which led to the idea of a Shawreth alumni reunion, which Scoggin helped plan last February. About 50 former members gathered in Anderson Hall to mingle and reminisce about their time at MC.
“The most surprising thing to me was the distribution of class members throughout all of Shawreth who attended,” Scoggin said of the event. “At high school reunions, everyone is the same age and at the same stage of life. But at this reunion, we had people from 18 to 45. They could be trying to get into grad school, they could have just gotten married or had kids, or they could be the parent of three teenagers who had a baseball game that day.
“It was a relaxed time for everybody. Members were able to just hang out and just enjoy visiting with one another.”
To ensure his legacy of Shawreth lineage remains intact, Scoggin wrote a pair of amendments to the organization’s constitution that will prevent his directory from becoming outdated. But the ultimate value of his project for Shawreth lies in its vast potential for networking.
“With access to current contact information for all the Shawreth members over the last 25 years, whenever the current group of students wants to host an event like the reunion, they can reach out and get a response from virtually all the alumni through the years,” he said. “Best of all, a Shawreth member who might be moving to a big city and needs somebody to go to church with, or a senior planning to go to graduate school somewhere else, can use the information to reach out to Shawreth alumni living in that area.
“That’s what I hope it’ll be used for in the future – to keep people connected.”