Due to social class inequality, there are many people who never get the opportunity to go to college and get a degree. The reasons people can’t attend college vary, but a lack of funds and a lack of college education within the family are often reasons.
Some of the few high school students who are talented enough to be recruited for a collegiate sport continue to struggle with whether or not college is a good idea for them. Shannon Ray, a track runner for the University of Mississippi, now sees the light at the end of the tunnel as she prepares to graduate May 2018.
Ray was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1995. The majority of her family did not attend college, but she was determined to reach her dreams of running track for a major university.
After completing high school at St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory School, Ray attended an all girls school in her hometown called Xzavier Prep. “I was the first actual person from my school to attend a division one college,” she said.
The next step in Ray’s life would be a new experience. She had no role models to rely on for support. “When starting off my rookie year here at Ole Miss, I was a 200-meter specialist in track,” Ray said. As a freshman, Ray showcased her talent in collegiate track and field events.
Ray has come across many challenges leading her to even bigger events. For one, she experienced a tragedy. Ray lost her college coach a week prior to trying out for the USA world team.
“It was a tough break,” she said, “because I was invited to try out for world team, and I had to go to Oregon and perform without my coach.”
While participating in the USA world team Junior Olympics, Ray ran the 100 and 200 meter races as well as the 4 x 100-meter relay.
Ray and her team then had to adjust to a new coaching staff. “I had to get adjusted to how they trained and how they called everything, and it was just a huge adjustment for me and my team,” she said.
Ray then had to choose to pursue her track career and dream of a college degree at either Southern Mississippi, Texas Christian University or the University of Mississippi.
Since choosing Ole Miss, Ray has been awarded First Team All-American in the 100 meter relay races and Second Team All-American in the 200 meter relay races. She has also been named SEC Women’s Freshman of the Week after placing third in the 200 meter race at the Virginia Challenge and the Border Clash Invitational.
While her career on the track was soaring, Ray’s academics forced her to make a choice about the direction she wished to pursue post-graduation.
“Originally, I wanted to go to medical school, so I based my major on that,” she said. “But after a few classes and a not so great semester of Cs, I switched my major to IMC, and I love it.”
Ray feels that along with deciding her major, she was able to also make friends with other female athletes who, like Ray, had no idea what college and balancing a sport would be like. Some of these teammates Ray would, “…learn to grow with, challenge, and bond with.”
Nicole Henderson, also from New Orleans, Louisiana, met Shannon Ray while running sprints for Ole Miss. For the last six years, Ray and Henderson began a friendship like no other.
“We are so close, because we have had the same goals for so long,” Henderson said as she explained the dynamic she appreciates with Ray. “We respect each other in every way and literally know what each other is thinking. Crazy right?”
Henderson appreciates the person Ray has become throughout the years and believes Ole Miss has played a valuable role in teaching both girls who they were meant to be.
Choosing to be a part of a college is a hard decision to make. Playing a sport exceeded her expectations. She has accomplished so much, and as she walks across the Ole Miss stage this weekend, she will be the first in her family make an unreachable dream come true.