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Mississippi College Students Navigate Major Changes to Arrive at 2024 Commencement

Mary Margaret Freeman, left, and Kate Learned say Mississippi College prepared them well to entertain a wide array of career opportunities.
Mary Margaret Freeman, left, and Kate Learned say Mississippi College prepared them well to entertain a wide array of career opportunities.

When Kate Learned initially enrolled in Mississippi College, she dreamt of a career in the medical field.

This fall, the graduating senior will find herself entering the Mississippi College School of Law instead.

Why the change in degree programs from medicine to law?

“The pre-med classes were challenging,” Learned said, “but I discovered the administration of justice classes I took at MC were more interesting.

“Mississippi College made it easy to switch degree programs and has taught me how to approach law school in a way that will help me succeed.”

Mary Margaret Freeman was ticketed to follow in her family members’ footsteps and spend her undergraduate years at the University of Mississippi. An English lecture she attended at MC during a high school Preview Day changed her path.

The graduating MC Honors College student intends to pursue a career in archives, special collections, and library science to help inform others about Mississippi’s rich history. As the recipient of a graduate assistantship in the History Department at UM, Freeman will attend Ole Miss after all – but with a degree from MC in hand.

“Mississippi College has been incredibly impactful,” Freeman said. “It is equipping students to go out into the world with the compassion and nuance needed to bring a sense of unity to our nation, state, and higher education in general.

“All the doors opened for me to come to MC. The Lord made it happen, and I’m so glad He did.”

Learned and Freeman are two of the hundreds of graduating seniors whose lives and budding careers have been shaped by Mississippi College. They will celebrate the completion of their undergraduate education during MC’s 198th Commencement Thursday-Friday, May 2-3.

Looking back at their time on the Clinton campus, both students agree they are well prepared to entertain a wide array of career options. Learned will receive her Bachelor of Arts in administration of justice and paralegal studies, while Freeman will receive her Bachelor of Arts in English literature.

A resident of Memphis, Learned toured MC in high school and was impressed by the state-of-the-art cadaver lab and the robust pre-medicine program. That visit convinced her to become the first Choctaw in her family.

“Growing up (with twin sister, Claire), my parents taught us that being an individual, not just fitting into a mold, was important,” Learned said. “Having my own interests made it easy to transition to Mississippi College.”

She enjoyed an active social life on campus as a member of the Laguna Social Tribe. She also worked for a time in Campus Operations, helping make sure her classmates received their packages. The event she enjoyed most at MC was the annual spring crawfish boil.

“It’s always fun whenever people gather on the Quad,” she said.

Learned’s decision to change majors was not without its doubts, but she found a trusted ally to help guide her path.

“Dr. Harry Porter (professor of history and political science) walked me through how switching my major would work,” she said. “He reassured me that I wasn’t behind. I appreciated him helping make sure that I would make a good decision about my future.”

Preparing to attend law school may sound daunting – especially for someone steeped in medical instruction – but Learned found the new career focus refreshing.

“Many of my paralegal courses were with some of the professors who teach at the law school,” she said. “I went to Pre-Law Day and discovered that MC Law was a good fit for me.

“I’m looking forward to researching some of the clinics the law school offers, speaking with attorneys in the area that practice family law, and go from there. I may go into family law and help in the school’s child advocacy and adoption clinics.”

During Commencement Week, Learned is looking forward to showing her parents, Rick and Cheryl, her younger sister, Mary Jade (a freshman at Middle Tennessee State University), her twin, Claire (a graduating senior at Baylor University), and her grandparents around the campus she has called home for the last four years.

“MC is a great environment, not only academically, but socially,” she said. “It has pushed me to become a better person. It’s a great school, and the professors and students connect well. I feel well prepared and have acquired the time-management skills I need to successfully approach law school.

“Stepping out of your comfort zone and investing in people will take you far at MC. So many individuals here want the best for you and are willing to invest in you to see you succeed.”

Oxford had been a “home away from home” for Freeman until she visited Mississippi College and went to a mock class hosted by Dr. David Miller, MC professor of English and philosophy.

The Meridian product found Miller’s discussion of a Shakespearean sonnet so engaging that she decided to apply to MC’s Honors College. As Honors College faculty, Miller became one of her favorite instructors.

“English may be a humanities field of study, but the English Department has struck a great balance between giving us practical and theoretical skills,” Freeman said. “English is not a vocational major, but the English Department has made a concerted effort to intentionally equip students with skills to enter the workplace. That has allowed me to explore my interests at a deeper level without limiting me occupationally.

“I’ve been able to apply my skills to tackle internships or other on-campus jobs, and my degree is applicable anywhere.”

While Freeman found the Honors College’s multidisciplinary approach challenging, she never felt overwhelmed by the robust curriculum.

“It made my undergraduate career more exciting and much more fun,” she said. “I was expected to engage in my studies with a concerted thoughtfulness and also from a transdisciplinary perspective. The liberal arts focus has given me an appreciation not only for my major, but for every major. It has equipped me to engage with students from other disciplines with much more clarity.

“Being a part of Honors College has been enriching because it engages both the humanities and STEM and asks tough questions of both. The challenges have been more like blessings for me because I’ve been able to engage in a thoughtful and deep way and get the most out of a genuinely liberal arts education.”

Working in the campus archives at MC in conjunction with the Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission to preserve the history of the University has also made a profound impact on her career choice.

“Preserving the history of the state, making it available to citizens for free, is important work,” she said. “As a Mississippian, I believe my vocation and my calling is to not only preserve, but share the history of Mississippi with other Mississippians. My plans reflect that.

“Mississippi College has given me a love for history – sharing it, engaging with it, talking about it, and educating people about it. The state has a unique and, at times, difficult path. Approaching that from a Christian perspective is crucial to the betterment of our state.”

Despite the academic demands of Honors College, Freeman found time to participate in a number of campus activities. A member of the Swannanoa Social Tribe, she is the senior sweetheart for Shawreth Men’s Social Club. She was involved with the Campus Programming Board, she volunteered in the MC Writing Center, and she spent a year working in University Archives. She has also played an active role in several honor societies, including Mortar Board, the Sigma Tau Delta English honor society, and the Phi Alpha Theta history honor society.

It’s hard to imagine Freeman having more social opportunities at a much larger state university.

“My sister, Catherine, is a sophomore at Ole Miss, and she’s very involved there,” Freeman said. “But I would definitely say that the breadth of what I’ve been able to accomplish at MC is tied to its size.

“There are important lessons that come from being involved in organizations – learning how to be responsible, set boundaries, and know when to say ‘No’ – and I’m very grateful to have had these opportunities at MC.”

During Commencement, she is looking forward to welcoming three sets of grandparents and her parents, Trey and Jan Freeman, to the place that has helped nurture her passion for engaging in and preserving history.

“MC has 100-percent made me into the person that I am today,” she said. “The faith component of the University has been impactful in ways that I didn’t expect. Being surrounded by people who were willing to engage in hard conversations with me has been the most meaningful part of my journey.”