With another commencement season at hand, most call to mind a vision of those students who have worked so hard to walk the stage in their caps and gowns to receive hard-earned diplomas. But what about those unable to attend the ceremony, despite having labored so hard for a degree?
Rex Moak, 53, of Moss Point, and a graduate student at The University of Southern Mississippi, died suddenly in March of 2013 while working toward his dream of achieving a doctorate in higher education administration.
Although Moak was unable to complete the last two chapters of his dissertation, a group of his colleagues, professors and friends -- Brad Bailey, Jalynn Roberts and Jessica Roberts -- stepped in to finish the work, thus enabling Moak’s dream to become a reality.
Betty Moak was presented with her husband’s hood and diploma at the morning ceremony on Friday, May 9 at Reed Green Coliseum.
Due to their familiarity with Rex’s work and his well-written research, the group was able to complete what he started. Bailey said that one goal of the research report is to enable others to repeat the study, and Rex’s work was detailed enough to allow them to do so. They were assisted by Thomas O’Brien, Dissertation Committee chair, and Jeanne Stewart, graduate reader.
“He is the last of my graduate school friends to finish, and I am proud to know that with this posthumous doctorate, that our circle will be complete,” said Jessica Roberts, a classmate and friend. “I hope that he is smiling down today knowing that all of his friends ‘had his back’ just like he had ours.”
O’Brien described Moak as a pleasure to teach in part because he was not just a learner, but a teacher in his own right.
“He came to each class curious to exchange informed opinions and ideas with me and his classmates,” said O’Brien. “He was well aware of the credential he was pursuing, but that was not his primary motive. He studied and undertook research for the sake of learning. And he did it all with a positive outlook and a smile.”
Moak received a bachelor of science from Millsaps College and a master of education at Southern Miss. He taught at Pascagoula High School and at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) for 17 years. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has also recognized Rex’s contributions by planting an oak tree which will be known as the “Moak Oak.”
Bailey described Moak as extremely learned. He taught physics, physics with calculus and physical science at the Jackson County campus at MGCCC. Moak was the only professor credentialed to teach physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and every other course offered in the Science Department.
“Rex was a lifelong learner,” Bailey said. “He probably had enough graduate hours for two doctorates. That is one of the reasons why we were so adamant in having this degree conferred. If anyone worked harder to master his craft, it was Rex Moak.”
“While Rex was a very intelligent person who was proficient in numerous academic disciplines, I will always remember him as a jovial person who always made everyone around him laugh,” said Jalynn Roberts, a friend and classmate.
“At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Rex was loved by his students and colleagues alike,” Bailey said. “He was the ‘big man’ on campus, both literally and figuratively. Rex was a giant of a man, not only because of his massive frame and 6’6” stature, but he also had a giant brain, a giant heart, a giant smile and a giant personality to go along with it.”
Betty Moak described her husband of 23 years as a “gentle giant” and a phenomenal physics professor.
“He died doing what he loved and was born to do which was teaching,” she said. “He really stressed that learning never stops and all of his students loved him. He was the greatest person that my son (Nolan) and I ever knew.”
Friends of Rex’s shared memories of him and described a kind and giving person who would go out of his way to help others.
“Everyone knows how hard it is to find a parking place on the (Southern Miss) campus,” Jessica Roberts said. “I once jokingly asked Rex to save for me a parking spot close to Owings McQuagge Hall. When I arrived, he was standing in a prime parking place, waving and smiling at passers-by. Not one driver questioned this hulking, smiling figure or dared to ask him to move. That is a glowing example of the type of friend that he was and the personality that he had.”