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A new generation of Mississippians fighting for the future of our state

I recently had lunch with Oxford native Jake McGraw, a fellow Ole Miss alum who’s been in Jackson for a few years as the editor and public policy coordinator of Rethink Mississippi.

Jake’s passion for striving to build a better Mississippi is boundless. In a state where it’s so easy to get discouraged by the things that keep us at the bottom of every bad list, he’s an example for those of us in our late 20s and early 30s who want to serve Mississippi, but feel like we can’t stick around for very long if we seek significant career opportunities or value a higher quality of life.

Admittedly, I was one of those people. After graduating five years ago, I knew I’d have to swiftly tear myself away from Oxford to fight the overpowering urge to stay. Not because I wanted to relive my college days or was scared to leave, but because I had long believed in the power of what we could do in Oxford to solidify our place as the state’s city upon a hill – a collection of voices, educators, business owners, politicians and community leaders working together to not only build a better Oxford, but a better state.

Still, I knew I needed to go off for a while and not only build a career but an understanding of the world outside of Mississippi before I could come back. So, I removed myself for a while. But even after I returned to the state in 2012 to work for The Clarion-Ledger, I had to tear myself away again two years later when my son was born, and the pressure to provide on a journalist’s salary overwhelmed me.

It was a constant struggle to cope with knowing what Mississippi’s potential meant to me and how it conflicted with my career goals at the time, as well as the life I wanted for my son.

My father devoted his adult life to telling people about Mississippi, often traveling to his hometown of Kosciusko and filling our home with an endless stream of stories and memories of his life growing up.

Still, I couldn’t ignore the lingering truth that defied everything he believed about his home state: He left Mississippi in his 30s and never moved back.

“I just knew there was nothing for me here,” he’d say.

The future of our state depends on our ability not only to attract talent and passionate, innovative minds who can move us forward but also retain the talent that’s already here. It requires those of us reluctantly tearing ourselves away from the state we love to take a hard look at what we’re chasing elsewhere and determine how we can help Mississippi provide more opportunities so many of us seek in other states.

I’ve watched several former classmates return to the state over the last few years for that very reason. Talk to any of them about how long they’ll stick around before better opportunities come calling, and you’ll soon realize they’re here to stay.

By choice.

There is nothing more encouraging in this state right now than knowing a bright, talented generation of young Mississippians are either staying or returning to where they were planted to serve the state and move it forward.

It is that reluctance to leave for the purpose of improving Mississippi that could give future generations a reason to stay.