University of Southern Mississippi student and Gulfport native Jamie Henton has faced many obstacles throughout her college career, but letting those obstacles hinder her from furthering her education has never been an option.
A first generation college student, Henton has dodged many curve balls on the path to graduation, but none of those hurdles has ever stopped her from pursing her Bachelor of Arts degree in history.
On Saturday, May 14, Henton will walk across the stage at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to accept her degree as the first person in her family to not only graduate from high school, but from college as well.
“I am proud of myself. It has been a lot of pressure because I am the oldest. It was pressure to stay on the path of finishing my college degree and making my parents proud, especially my dad, but it’s been more than worth it,” she said.
Initially, Henton planned to attend another university to major in journalism, but when her mother lost her eyesight, she decided to stay close to home to help support her family.
Taking on more responsibilities, Henton began working to contribute toward her family’s income while also caring for her mother at home.
“There have been times that I couldn’t make it to school or went without,” she said. “One time I had to walk home from school because I ran out of gas, but perseverance has always been the key. Even though it feels very hard, keep going and you will make it.”
Although it may appear Henton has experienced her fair share of obstacles, she describes her time at the University’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach as being some of the best moments in her life.
“I love USM, especially USM Gulf Park,” she said. “When I first got here, I felt like a fish out of water. However, I have made lasting friendships with some great people.”
A dean’s list student and member of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, Henton is the recipient of the 2016 John E. Wallace History Award. She is also a member of the spring 2016 Eagle Scholar Program for Undergraduate Research (Eagle SPUR) for which she received $1,000 to conduct her own original research, titled “To Stay in the South.”
Inspired by her grandfather, “To Stay in the South” observes why many African Americans chose to remain in the south, as opposed to migrating north during the Great Migration. Henton has presented her research at the Posters in the Rotunda event at the Mississippi State Capitol in March and at the Southern Miss Undergraduate Symposium on Research and Creative Activity on the Hattiesburg campus in April, winning first place in the category of History, Heritage and Legacy.
“Jamie is an outstanding, ambitious and determined student with a real passion for history. She does graduate level history as an undergraduate student,” said Dr. Douglas Bristol, Henton’s advisor and University professor of history. “What is amazing about her is that she can make a connection between her life story and the history books you find in the library.”
Henton has also been involved in many extracurricular activities throughout her time at the Gulf Park campus, serving in several leadership capacities. She is president of Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, election commissioner for the Afro-American Student Organization, and chartering president of the History and Heritage Society. She also is a member of Making Mississippi Women Secure and the Southern Connection Leadership Team.
After graduation, Henton said she intends to enroll into graduate school at Southern Miss to study history. Upon obtaining her graduate degree, she plans to attend law school and study civil rights law.
The daughter of an interracial couple, Henton has experienced many prejudices across her lifetime, but those experiences have done nothing but shaped her into the person she is and the professional she desires to be.
“I remembered as a child going to a family practice clinic in Gulfport with my mom, and the doctor refused to touch or look at me because I was of mixed race,” she said. “From that point on, I knew I wanted to help people so they wouldn’t have to experience a similar ordeal like I did.”
Although Henton said there has been “pressure to stay on the path,” the things she has accomplished have been worth it.
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,” she said, echoing her favorite quote by country music artist Dolly Parton.