By Savannah Smith
After graduating from college in May, I am leaving the state of Mississippi.
I’ve known Mississippi for my entire life. She feels safe. She feels comforting. She feels familiar. I grew up in her schools and learned from her people.
I learned how to ride a bike here. I learned how to fly a kite, and how to eat crawfish and swim in her lakes. I learned what it means to have a best friend here. I learned how to think here.
As I grew, I also learned about her hard parts. I learned about her difficult past and the pain that has been endured on her soil. I saw poverty and privilege and learned to determine the difference between the two. I met people with incredible strength, resilience and grit. I’ve seen oppression and discrimination and some of the sincerest love and goodness of heart.
I’ve also seen a lack of opportunity, and because of this, I’m not alone in my decision to leave the state after graduating from college.
According to research from Mississippi Lifetracks/IHL via Rethink Mississippi, only half of recent graduates from Mississippi’s four-year public universities are working in the state five years after receiving a degree. Slightly more than 60 percent of in-state students have been retained, and a mere 7 percent of out-of-state students.
Mississippi has a unique problem with outmigration, meaning that more people are leaving than coming in to the state. According to census data via Rethink Mississippi, the state lost 3.9 percent of its millennial population (people born between 1981-2000) between 2010-2016. No other state exceeded a 2.8 percent decline during that time.
When I hear these numbers, I can’t help but think about the many people I know my age who want to leave the state. Part of the issue is our generation’s need for instant gratification. The largest metropolitan area in the state is Jackson, and it does not offer as many opportunities as larger cities.
For instance, a millennial may want to order something on Amazon and have it shipped to them in hours, but this feature is only available in certain larger cities such as Chicago, Nashville and Atlanta.
There are also more job opportunities, specifically in stem and technology fields, in larger cities. There is also more to do there. People have access to many fun restaurants, art exhibits, and widely-known live music acts. This is why many of my friends want to move to cities like Nashville, Dallas, Birmingham and Atlanta right after college.
Another reason I think millennials are eager to leave the state is for social reasons. Mississippi is not necessarily a leader in social progression. When Mississippi passed legislation, such as House Bill 1523, which allows business owners in Mississippi to refuse service to people based on their sexuality, it was discouraging to many Mississippians. Many people I know who want to leave the state want to live somewhere more socially progressive.
When I talk to classmates who are not from the state, many are discouraged because they feel like it’s difficult to remain in Mississippi. Many say that it feels like more of a social club, one in which they cannot work their way easily into because they are not used to its inherent ways.
Although there are incentives for students to stay in the state for programs in education and medicine, there are many other fields in which Mississippi could use educated professionals. The state legislature is currently working on developing a more educated workforce, and this is going to be impossible if this rate of college graduates continues to leave the state. More funding could possibly be allocated as an incentive to get students to stay in the state after graduating.
I don’t necessarily have a negative reason for wanting to leave the state. Mississippi is all I have ever known, and I want to experience what it feels like to live somewhere else to be a better version of myself.
I want to have conversations with people who think differently than me and experience cultures that are different from my own. I think some of the best people who continue to shape who we are as a state are Mississippians who left and brought ideas back. Having these individuals helps us to grow and change.
I love Mississippi and care deeply about her future. I care about the minds that will continue to shape it. I care about the people who remain here and others who want to come to the state.
Mississippians must face the reality of brain drain. We have to take ownership of the issue and realize there are measures we can take to stop it.
Savannah Smith, 21, is a UM senior from Corinth, Mississippi. She is pursuing a double major in public policy leadership and print journalism. At UM, she serves as director of the Ole Miss Big Event, the largest day of community service in Mississippi. She also serves as vice president of The Columns Society, a member of Chi Omega sorority, and as the 2017-2018 Miss Ole Miss. She loves to learn about other cultures and how she fits into the greater world around her. On her best day, Smith has a cup of Bottletree Bakery coffee on the Square Books balcony with her favorite set of watercolors.