A young man sits across the table wearing a Greek letter shirt and a Yeti hat. His beard is roughly three to four days overgrown. He drives a sizable Ford pickup and listens to country music with the windows down, emblematic of the Southern phenotype.
Michael Deauville, 20, is also a published author. He has served as a firefighter in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, successfully lobbied the Mississippi state legislature to pass influential legislation, speaks like a professor of rhetoric, and travels 2,100 miles to study at the University of Mississippi.
Deauville’s earliest memory was in living in Minnesota. “We spent winter in Minnesota for my sister’s treatment,” Deauville said. “I had this big, fancy playroom in the Ronald McDonald house where we stayed. It blows my mind that I remember it, but the traumatic circumstances of the situation were very vivid.”
From infancy, Deauville has lived with two siblings who have physical challenges. His brother, 30, was born with an encephalocele. According to the Center for Disease Control website, this is a “sac-like protrusion or projection of the brain and the membranes that cover it through an opening in the skull.” They happen when the neural tube does not close completely during pregnancy.
At age 7, Deauville’s older sister developed a degenerative disease, similar to multiple sclerosis or ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
“All my memories I have revolve around my siblings – the challenges that have come with their lives, and how it has affected (my life) and my families’ lives,” he said.
Understanding that he grew up in a unique situation situation, Deauville sought to change the narrative. He said to himself:
“I can make this a negative part of my life, or I can turn it into something positive.” So he did.
After giving a high school speech about his experiences, Deauville was approached about collating his stories and experiences into a book. As a college freshman with no prior book writing experience, Deauville put pen to paper. Eighteen months later, he became an author.
A Brothers Love is Deauville’s autobiography. It includes vignettes and lessons learned as the youngest brother in a family with two physically challenged children. Deauville believes the book’s message is broad.
“The message of overcoming, or taking a challenge and turning it into something positive, those can be related to anything,” he said.
Deauville believes life challenges are God testing his spiritual will. “You can take all these challenges in life, and you can let them define you,” he said. “Or you can take those challenges, and let them define something greater.”
After the book was published, he began supporting causes he believes in. In the summer of 2016, he spent time in the Sierra Nevada mountains working as a firefighter. Aspiring to serve in the U.S. Air Force as a trauma surgeon, Deauville believes serving as a volunteer firefighter and eventually an EMT will help achieve that goal.
He’s also a dedicated member of the Ole Miss community, endearingly characterized by friend and fraternity brother Reynolds Spencer as someone with “a rigidly defined sense of what is right and what is wrong.”
“It’s rare to meet someone who so deeply cares about others,” Spencer said. “It takes a special type of person to travel as far as he does for school, to balance the weight of being an author, have a social life, and keep his mind on school.”
As a sophomore, Deauville ran for a UM Associated Student Body Senate seat, but wasn’t elected. It didn’t discourage him.
“I learned that you can make a difference without being elected,” Deauville said. “It doesn’t matter if anybody knows what your name is. If you make a difference and change the lives of others, you’re doing something right.”
Simultaneous with Ole Miss election season, Deauville began advocating for state legislation called the Rivers McGraw Mental Health Diversion Pilot Program Act, or HB 1089. The law would recognized the critical need for judicial intervention to establish court processes and procedures that are more responsive to the needs of defendants with mental illnesses, while maintaining public safety and the integrity of the court process.
It is named after an Ole Miss student who took his life after being arrested for a DUI. The bill’s current status is that it has been approved by the Mississippi governor.
Deauville is funny and soft spoken. He chooses his words carefully, and he is a pronounced man of faith and values, who wants to do his part in the world.
“We’re playing a small part of this planet,” Deauville said. “If we take our part, and make a difference, and live life like scripture determines, then in the end, we’re going to have a better world.”