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Dear freshman students…

By Billy Crews

Thank you for being here at Ole Miss. And thank you for your attendance, attentiveness and thoughtful support and response to our keynote speaker at the Fall Convocation meeting Tuesday at the Pavilion. I wish everyone in our Ole Miss family — all students, all faculty and all alumni — could have heard Bryan Stevenson speak.

Wow! His speech was worth the cost of tuition at Ole Miss. If you listened deeply and reflect on his remarks, you may have everything you need to be successful these next four years at your university and the next untold years of your life.

I hope you will “Change the World” and “Change Mississippi” starting now and throughout your life. Isn’t that the highest purpose of an education and life?

Take accounting here; become an accountant if you choose, and change the world and Mississippi with your accounting expertise.

Study the liberal arts and major in English, history, political science, sociology, psychology, mathematics, the physical sciences or other disciplines. Then use your wisdom to change the world and Mississippi with your insight and skill.

Enroll in journalism, learn to write, broadcast, market and interact with real and virtual communities. Then use your gift to change the world and Mississippi.

Join the School of Education and become a teacher, a school leader, a counselor and then equip other minds with your creative, applied knowledge to address poverty and provide economic and social opportunity.

Do the same with music, art, speech pathology, business, law, engineering, medicine, foreign languages, nutrition, the military, athletics and through the Honors College or Croft Institute and every resource this university has to offer. Change the world and change Mississippi.

Let me paraphrase Winston Churchill. “To change is to improve; to change often is to become perfect.”

If you are at our university, you are a privileged person. Many feel entitled and do not even realize it. It is just our unwitting experience in life thus far. Let’s get outside of our privilege and understand more deeply and broadly our world, ourselves and our neighbors.

Bryan Stevenson suggested four essentials for changing the world

• GET IN PROXIMITY — to people, problems and opportunities. Get outside our own bubbles, perspectives and experiences.

• CHANGE THE NARRATIVE — understand the stories you have heard, the history you have read, the culture that has surrounded us are limited and may only be half the truth (and as one person once told me, “Half the truth is often a great lie.”).

• STAY HOPEFUL — which requires courage and honesty and overcoming personal challenges, examining the past and looking forward at the same time.

• DO UNCOMFORTABLE THINGS — don’t live based on fear and anger and racial exclusions or assumptions.

I was unable to capture and absorb everything said this past Tuesday night, but here are some of the other notes I took from Mr. Stevenson’s gifts he shared so eloquently:

1) The opposite of poverty is not wealth; it is justice.

2) You can’t change the world from a distance.

3) Our cuts and our bruises are our medals of honor.

4) Beat the drum for justice.

I really believe all freshman and each of us have our college syllabus from the outline of this fall convocation message. Now let’s practice these next four years in our classrooms, in our conversations, in our experiences, changing ourselves and working for change in our world and in Mississippi.

All we really need to know, we learned the first week of college. If we can hear and apply this message, we will be better people and will build a better community here and beyond here, today and each day. Let’s study and go to work changing the world and Mississippi!

Billy Crews is a 1978 Ole Miss alum and staff member of the School of Education.