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Oxford Transplant: A Second Act in a Most Improbable Place

I do not recall my first visit to the University of Mississippi. It is an event that has been lost in a lifetime of experiences. My return to Ole Miss, I can recall with great clarity. This trip occurred just two short years ago, as I prepared to move my daughter into her freshman dorm at Ole Miss.

I recall saying to her as the town of Oxford rose up beyond the hill driving west to east on Highway 6 – “do you feel the magic in the air.” This feeling, more temporal than ethereal became downright palpable as I took my first steps onto the campus in more than five decades.

And for the first time in a very long time, my eyes opened to a world of possibilities in a most unlikely of places – Mississippi. Having lived the last 43 years in Southern California, going to college, starting a career and raising a family, I had finally walked clear of the “wilderness.” With that return visit, I began a journey that was to change my life.

Back in California, I set out to create a plan that would bring me to Oxford. My wife of 30 years, Ellen, was up for the adventure. Her only condition – she wanted to maintain a foothold in the Golden State – a place near the water to escape the heat and humidity of the Mississippi summers. I readily agreed. My youngest daughter was flummoxed. Having grown up in California, her blood courses with all that comprises the state. She wished me well but insisted she will always be a Californian. Give her time, I thought. My son met my pronouncement with encouragement and support. My oldest daughter, a freshman here at Ole Miss understood my motivation perhaps better than most.

Having revealed my plans to my family, I then started sharing my idea with my colleagues. Moving to Oxford, MS, I would maintain my day job as a public relations executive and then pursue a passion I had held for some time – to teach at a university. This was met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Undaunted, I continued to move forward, my big break coming the morning of the Ole Miss/Alabama game in October of 2014. My family and I were tailgating at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media tent on the Grove, guests of Dean Norton. There, I had the opportunity to ask Professor Fiene how he had made his way to Ole Miss. His story was compelling. I queried – how would I go about finding a teaching job at the University. His response – “When would you like to start.”

Totally unprepared for that offer, I mumbled something about getting back to him, and we left it at that. But a switch had been flipped. And within the next 15 months, I would secure an adjunct instructor position teaching a graduate class in the Meek School, buy a new home in Oxford and become a resident of the great state of Mississippi. Now two years later, California recedes quickly in my minds eye rear-view mirror replaced by new relationships and experiences that I make here daily. Going forward, my life is here and now I see all of the glorious and exciting possibilities that are Mississippi.

My students make fun of me because they do not see what I so clearly see — a great state that has provided 200 years of service to this nation – producing a rich and full heritage of cultural achievements that shape not just the South but that also that inform a nation. But it is not the past that so excites me about my new home. It is the hope and promise of what we Mississippians can become as we begin our journey for the next 200 years. I am downright evangelical about Mississippi – unabashedly unapologetic about all that is Mississippi. No, I am not blinded to our past – but we live in the present and oh what an opportunity lays before us – to create a new future that becomes the envy of the country. I am so proud to call Mississippi my home and to serve this University and this community in any way I can.

Mark BursonMark Burson is a public relations professional, adjunct instructor with the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi and an avid cyclist. He may be reached at mmburson99@gmail.com.


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