The first time I set foot on the Millsaps College campus was the day I moved into the Freshman Dorm (“Ezelle Hotel”). I must have spoken to an admissions counselor at Greenville High School, but I remember only a late spring phone call with John Christmas, Dean of Admissions. He “goosed” the Financial Aid office and I got a Financial Aid offer that worked. There are, no doubt, many reasons why that SHOULDN’T have worked out well, but it was one of the most spectacularly good decisions I’ve ever made.
I was, at that time, still very much the “Good Baptist Boy” my mother had raised. I wasn’t at all interested in the fraternity scene and did not sing up for “rush.” I did go to a worship service in the college chapel on that first night. There I met Bill Singer, who would become my best friend throughout my Millsaps years. I also met, or at least SAW, Don Fortenberry, the College Chaplain.
I had figured out my class schedule on my own, by reading the college catalogue. I sent in my schedule directly to the Dean’s office, much to the irritation of my assigned Faculty Advisor, Austin Wilson.:). I saw that there was a program called “Heritage” that would allow me to fulfill many of my core curriculum requirements. That sounded good, so I signed up for Heritage. This was another of my “low information” decisions that COULD have gone wrong, but went spectacularly well. Heritage was a seven semester hour (14 over two semesters) multi-disciplinary course that covered the History, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Music “Heritage” of the West. Again, I encountered teachers who knew their subjects, but were really teaching “themselves,” letting me see what they were passionate about. T.W. Lewis approached the teaching of Religion in a way we hadn’t covered at First Baptist Church. Michael Mitias BECAME the philosophers he was teaching. Jonathan Sweat made the composers and music he was teaching come alive. Catherine Freis wore her passion for Homer on her sleeve. Richard Freis quietly directed and coordinated the whole system. I was most grateful for Nell Thomas’ instruction, because we wrote all essay exams. At some point when T.W. Lewis was illuminating something about the letters of Paul, I felt a “nudge” toward a life in ministry. How this Baptist boy was going to make that work with enrollment in a United Methodist college was unclear, but I felt no “nudge” at all to transfer.
During one of Frank Laney’s lectures on European history, I felt another “nudge.” I had, of course, greatly admired Nell Thomas and my general thought at the beginning of my college work was that I would become an English teacher. Now, the “nudge” I was feeling was toward becoming a History major. As you may have noticed, I seem to listen to “nudges.” Most of the time, that has worked out. My final three years at Millsaps would be the playing out of those “nudges.”