As I began my junior year of high school, a daunting, scary question was frequently asked by parents, adults, and even strangers.
“Where are you going to college?”
As a Virginia native, I grew up cheering on the University of Virginia Cavaliers. Orange and blue took over my closet space and art supply box.
When the time came for me to think about which university would be best for me, I felt worried and unsure I would ever find a place that felt like home.
A family friend, and former University of Mississippi student asked me to visit her for a weekend.
I had barely heard of Ole Miss, and the thought of living over 1,000 miles away from my family, friends, and the beach was scary.
During my visit, my fears subsided, and I was comforted with a sense of warmth and belonging. The smiling faces and greetings from strangers excited me more with each moment in Oxford.
I knew I would be an Ole Miss Rebel.
I wanted to be part of the family and learn in a place I knew nothing about. I wanted my closet to be painted with red and blue forever.
I entered as a freshman with common worries and concerns of starting over in a new place without any familiar faces, but I was determined to make this place my own. I wanted to keep the tradition of making a faraway place feel like home for others in the future.
I turned my love for the university in to a side job when I became a Student Ambassador for the University of Mississippi.
This had been a major goal of mine since I came for my campus tour. The current ambassadors oozed confidence, poise, and love for the school they were attending.
During the interview process, I was asked my Martin Fisher, associate director of admissions, “Why do you want to be an ambassador?”
I responded without rehearsal, “I want to be an ambassador because I want to give the same sense of home and belonging that the ambassador that gave my family a tour, gave to me.”
Fisher smiled and filled with joy, as his love for Ole Miss is apparent when heard my response.
During my first tour, I was nervous. I did not want to ruin a prospective student’s experience because of my tour and input.
Each tour given by a student ambassador is different. Ambassadors are encouraged to share personal experiences with the group they are spending time with. I was always shocked by the amount of connections I made with people on my tours.
My most cherished memory was when a young, nervous, high school senior approached me for advice. She was also from Virginia and was concerned she wouldn’t feel at home so far from her own.
I told her my experience and how this place becomes a safe, warm environment as you meet people from all over the world. There is always a new place to see and explore. I reassured her that choosing Ole Miss would be the best decision of her life.
A year later, I spotted that same young girl on campus. Although this time, she was not nervous, shy, or scared of her future. She was smiling and surrounded by new friends.
She embraced me with a hug and whispered, “Thank you for helping me find my home away from home.”
This is one of the proudest moments in my life.
Although it wasn’t an award and no medal was received, it was the most honored moment I have experienced.
I became filled with joy with the thought that I helped someone, even in the smallest of ways. I had a small part in making someone feel safe and secure.
Just like every journey in life, there are challenges, even at Ole Miss. However, these moments might not have happened without the doors that Ole Miss opened for myself and my future.
That feeling and sense of accomplishment that I received during my time as an ambassador inspired me to always do my best and the best for others around me.
I retired from being an ambassador last year to focus on my schoolwork, but I will carry the memories, relationships, and lessons with me forever.
My hope is that the students of Ole Miss keep the tradition of being kind, loving people, forever. I hope on the biggest game days, they find words of kindness and make someone’s perception of Ole Miss a good one, even during the Alabama game.
Karly Caton, 21, is a senior originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in IMC combined with a minor in business and a specialization in public relations. She hopes to pursue a career in advertising.