The University of Mississippi has long held a reputation for producing graduates who are true Rebels. Whether they're business executives, celebrities, writers or athletes, they're known to break barriers and challenge the status quo.
It can be hard to fathom that even the most successful Ole Miss graduates were once standing among thousands in the Grove, wearing cap and gown, facing post-collegiate life with uncertainty.
The following alumni have gained great wisdom over the course of their careers – and they're willing to share it. Read on to see what they have to say to the newest crop of Ole Miss graduates.
Napier, star of HGTV's "Home Town," graduated in 2007. Along with her husband, Ben, a fellow Ole Miss graduate, Napier launched a popular home renovation television show in 2015. She suggested new graduates should expect to stumble before gaining a solid footing in their careers.
"Don't worry if your first couple jobs after college aren't what you dream of for yourself," she said. "There's so much living ahead of you and every small decision you make will take you on your next grand adventure.
"The job you have today is probably not 'The One' forever. 'Fake it 'til you make it' is truly valuable when you're unsure of yourself as a professional after college."
Jesse J. Holland
Holland, a member of the Class of 1994, is an award-winning writer and journalist. He's also the author of "The Black Panther," the novel that accompanied the record-shattering blockbuster film of the same title. Holland urged students to enthusiastically pursue opportunities.
"Opportunities don't come that often," he said. "Those with the courage and fortitude to embrace those opportunities when they arrive are the ones who will advance.
"'Just say no' is last century. Now, we have to say 'yes' and grab life while you have the chance. You can always say no. You won't have the opportunity to say 'yes' to opportunities very often."
Holland also said students would likely be surprised by how much their affection for Ole Miss will continue to grow after graduation.
"Right now, you think you love Ole Miss," Holland said. "You think you love the Grove and the Walk of Champions. You don't know yet how you'll yearn to be back home, to the place where you became an adult, to the place where you spent some of the happiest times of your life.
"That's when you'll realize that your body may have left Ole Miss, but your heart never will."
Kendricks, a 2015 graduate and 2016 Olympic medalist, said an attitude of discipline and persistence is essential to success. He recommended students embrace consistency to reach long-term goals.
"Try each day to view what you are doing that day as a means to accomplish your goals," Kendricks said. "It will give you that much more motivation to make the sacrifice that is needed to become who you want to be."
Dio, Class of 1983, is chairman and president of BP America, BP's chief representative in the United States. She recommended graduating students see Commencement as the first step in bigger journey, one to be taken with steady pursuit.
"Embrace a habit of lifelong learning," she said. "The world is changing faster than any time in history. Seize the opportunities to learn and grow along the way. Take time to learn and grow as you enter the work world."
"Don't rush through to the next big job, as your first roles serve as the foundation for your skills later."
Rose Jackson Flenorl
Flenorl, FedEx global citizenship manager, graduated from the university in 1979 and has served as a champion for Ole Miss since. Flenorl suggested the most powerful forms of growth often follow failure.
"We all face obstacles in life," she said. "Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fail. Know that failure is a natural consequence of trying. Successful people overcome the obstacles. They learn from their failures and keep going.
"If you give up, you'll miss the blessing that was right around the corner. Never let obstacles keep you from moving forth. Believe in yourself. Be confident in your ability to achieve your dreams."
Khayat, University of Mississippi chancellor emeritus and a 1960 graduate, said new graduates should take a practical approach to staying healthy and whole – and keep their alma mater close.
"Have a positive mindset, but try to avoid too much humility or too much confidence," he advised. "Believe in yourself and sincerely respond to questions. Listen carefully or read written materials carefully.
"One strong suggestion: establish a schedule that includes exercise, reading, time with your family and your spiritual life. If you have time, be an active alumnus, go to local meetings and help recruit promising high school and community college students."
Williamson, who was crowned Miss Tennessee in 2018, only a year after graduating, said students will find Ole Miss connections wherever life takes them. She also said students should welcome the future with optimism.
"Be ready to show your dedication, hard work and commitment to the world, and be prepared to keep working hard at whatever you choose next," Williamson said. "College is an amazing chapter of life, and while that chapter is ending, a new one is just beginning. Buckle up and stay focused, because the best is yet to come!
"I love the look on peoples' faces when you tell them that you graduated from the University of Mississippi; their eyes light up when they realize that you both have had the same wonderful experience, you both treasure Ole Miss like a second home, and you both understand what an incredible honor it is to have been able to graduate from the University of Mississippi."
Story by Emily Howorth/University Marketing & Communications