Discovering a New Confidence Journey to Commencement: Ole Miss First provides Jacob Ferguson path to pursue writing career

This story is part of the "Journey to Commencement" series that highlights University of Mississippi students and their academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

Pontotoc native Jacob Ferguson best describes his four years at the University of Mississippi in a single word: incredible.

"I have found a better understanding of myself because I've been able to pursue things I am passionate about in a supportive environment," said Ferguson, who graduates May 11. "The people around me have been so influential and instrumental in helping me grow and allowed me to discover a completely different definition of confidence for myself and how that applies to my life."

Coming from a small high school and community, Ferguson said he gained his new confidence in part thanks to the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where he served as an ambassador.

"I've had so many opportunities to be around incredible people, from the professors and staff members to my fellow classmates," Ferguson said. "And the thing I enjoyed the most is the ability to learn on a deeper level and the focus on my writing, reading and social skills."

"I wasn't expecting how incredible the Honors College has been on so many levels."

Ferguson is one of 10 members of the Class of 2019 inducted into the Ole Miss student Hall of Fame, and the prestigious honor was enhanced by being installed with his freshman roommate and best friend, Jarvis Benson. Their friendship, Ferguson said, is one of the best aspects of his college career.

University of Mississippi student Jacob Ferguson accepts a plaque from Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks during the Who's Who and Hall of Fame 2019 induction ceremony. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

"The most inspiring thing about Jarvis is how passionate and vocal he is," he said. "He stands up for what he believes in, and he inspired me to start doing the same. I became more active in politics on and off campus.

"I joined the Black Student Union, which for me was a step toward being more active in support of their goals instead of just saying 'I support you.'"

Besides being a BSU member, Ferguson spent two summers as an orientation leader and served as an Ole Miss Ambassador and Columns Society member. He credits his mentors with the Ole Miss First Scholarship program for providing a nurturing environment that allowed him to discover his passions in life and become active in a campus community.

"During your first semester of college, it takes time for relationships to settle, but the mentors were there for me from the beginning as a built-in support system," Ferguson said. "For me, it was like a safety net, and I knew they were there to proactively check in on me."

Ole Miss First Scholarship program coordinator Rosie McDavid said weekly one-on-one meetings with students such as Ferguson give them opportunities to talk through issues and get a respite from the stress of college life.

"Over the past four years, I have seen Jacob develop a sense of confidence, become aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and find his authentic voice in the safe and nurturing Ole Miss First environment," McDavid said.

Ferguson was active on campus during his time at the University of Mississippi, spending two summers as an orientation leader and served as an Ole Miss Ambassador and Columns Society member. Photos by Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Such an environment gave Ferguson the courage to change his mind about his course of study. The history and English double major knew he wanted to pursue a career in academia, but an opportunity to study abroad in Scotland changed his mind about his academic track, he said.

"I was sitting in a history class in Edinburgh and I just knew I wanted to try something different," Ferguson recalled. "I was scared about being able to pull it off at first, but I knew I needed to take the risk and switch my focus from history to creative writing."

The culmination of his creative work is titled "What We Could Do," a collection of short stories presented for his Honors College thesis defense. The work was a personal journey that showed Ferguson's bravery and fearlessness, said Beth Spencer, his thesis committee chair and lecturer in English.

"Jacob's short-story collection came from the prompt of, 'I can't live with this knocking on my door anymore,'" Spencer said. "To see him walking across the bridge to get from where he started in creative writing to where he is now took an incredible amount of fortitude and bravery.

"I created a safe space for him to work through his process, which was really a deeply personal journey for him. He is such a wonderful student and is so amazing. I loved working with him."

Ferguson was just awarded the 2018-19 Franklin Riley Prize for best undergraduate paper for his work on "Paternalism and Property Rights in the Slaveholding South: F.A.P. Barnard's Trial at the University of Mississippi, White Southerners and Slave Testimonies."

He plans to work in Oxford before choosing a graduate school, continuing his studies to become an English professor and focusing on creative writing.

Story by Mary Stanton Knight/University Development

Photos by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

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