Every year, members of the University of Mississippi senior class raise funds to leave a gift behind that represents their legacy.
This year, the tradition continues. By requesting contributions to the Student Emergency Fund, the Class of 2020 hopes to help fellow Ole Miss students struggling with pandemic-related challenges.
Class of 2020 officers originally chose the kind of traditional gift that most classes do. Noticing the turf in front of the Grove stage needs to be replaced, they dedicated the senior class gift to that effort. In March, however, the coronavirus ended in-person classes and shuttered most residence halls. Students began online classes and many returned to their hometowns.
The changes were especially hard on seniors, who miss being together on campus for their last semester and will have Commencement later than they planned.
“I don’t think any of us could’ve expected this to happen,” said Cole Blue, senior class president and a business and finance major from McComb. “But it’s important to stay positive and think about the future.
“With what’s going on, we felt it was necessary to change gears and focus our gift on helping others.”
In response to unprecedented student needs created by the pandemic, senior class officers launched an Ignite Ole Miss campaign to raise funds for the Christopher Holman Student Emergency Fund, an existing fund that helps students in crisis. Since March, the fund’s administrators have granted thousands of dollars to students who could not pay for rent, food or other expenses after losing jobs and facing unexpected hardships.
“In a way, this situation has showed me what’s most important in life,” said senior class vice president Cady Cooper, a public policy leadership and French major from Ocean Springs. “This is such a worthy fund and giving to it is one way we can leave a positive impact that lasts well beyond our graduation.”
Many seniors, parents, student organizations and supporters of the Class of 2020 have already given to the campaign, https://ignite.olemiss.edu/classof2020, which exceeded its modest goal of $5,000 within one week. The group hopes to double the goal.
“We have high hopes that we will be able to significantly contribute to the Student Emergency Fund,” said senior class secretary-treasurer Parker Blaylock, an integrated marketing communications major from Eupora. “You never know who you might help, and that’s what excited me most about this project: the opportunity to assist a classmate or a friend.”
The class officers said they intend to push past the goal and contribute as much as possible to the emergency fund.
Across the nation, people have reached out to graduating seniors as millions of students complete their college careers with very different celebrations.
“You don’t have to have a personal relationship with the Class of 2020 to support Ole Miss seniors this year,” said Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development. “Giving to the senior class gift is a perfect way to honor our graduates and show them we care, while giving relief and aid to other deserving students.”
In the meantime, seniors are focused on celebrating one another, Blue said.
“I’m sorry for the way our Ole Miss experience has ended, but we’ll get through this,” he said. “Whenever it’s over, we’ll all celebrate together.”
The university remains committed to holding an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 at a later date. Once it is safe to host large events, university officials will announce a new date for an in-person Commencement.