Long before Ta’Nia Hawkins arrived as an incoming freshman at the University of Mississippi, she had dreamed of one day attending the same institution where her father, University Police Chief Ray Hawkins, had been a student.
“My dad has been my biggest role model,” said the Water Valley native, who plans to major in allied health/pre-dentistry. “He and three other siblings were the first people in his family to attend Ole Miss. After he came here and became a success, I knew that I wanted to follow in his steps.”
Coincidentally, it was by following her father to a community service event that Hawkins unofficially began her journey to Ole Miss five years ago.
“I remember Dad asked me to come volunteer with him at the Big Event,” she said, referencing the annual campuswide community service campaign in which Ole Miss students, faculty and staff give back to Oxford and Lafayette County.
“I agreed and I absolutely loved it. I’ve been to every one of them since then and even have the T-shirts to prove it.”
As she completed high school, Hawkins excelled both academically, holding memberships in two honor societies, and in her extracurricular activities, serving as student council president and competing on the basketball, softball and powerlifting teams.
She also participated in the Trent Lott High School Leadership Program, a six-week summer event for high school students that culminates with a week on Capitol Hill.
“I like to travel and going to Washington, D.C., was so exciting to me,” Hawkins said. “While there, I met a lot of Ole Miss interns who really provided useful information about adjusting to the college experience.”
At her father’s suggestion, Hawkins applied to several universities, including UM. Though she was accepted to other institutions, Hawkins said she never wavered from her original decision.
“Stepping out of my comfort zone has never been a big thing for me,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to be in a place that was familiar to me, where everyone is friendly and is willing to help you in any way that they can. For me, that’s always been Ole Miss.”
Though her hometown is almost within walking distance and she has family nearby, Hawkins said she’s still adjusting to life on campus.
“Living in a residence hall with so many other people has definitely been a new experience for me,” said Hawkins, who is 15 years younger than her twin brothers. “Fortunately, my roommate and I met and became friends before sharing space together. So far, that part has been great.”
Hawkins is grateful for staff members who have influenced her life, including Lauren Childers, associate director of admissions and programs.
“Mrs. Childers has already helped me in so many ways,” Hawkins said. “After I was declared ineligible for the Luckyday Scholars program, she helped me find the financial aid necessary to cover almost all of my expenses. I wouldn’t be at Ole Miss without her.”
As a college student, Hawkins said she looks forward to things such as attending football and basketball games and, of course, participating in next year’s Big Event. Chief Hawkins, whose two brothers and sister are Ole Miss alumni, said having his daughter on campus as a student is truly special.
“It really means lot to know from an early age Ta’Nia wanted to be a part of this phenomenal place,” he said. “She has a plan for her life and she wants Ole Miss to be a part of that plan. For that, I am very proud.”
One of Hawkins’ long-term goals is to become a pediatric dentist at a nonprofit children’s hospital. Her ambition to pursue the career choice originated when she was a little girl following her mother (who managed a family day care center) to work.
“I found that I loved working with children,” she said. “I believe it’s also part of God’s plan for my life for me to help others.”
For now, Hawkins is just happy that her past dream is a present reality.
“At the end of the day, it’s always been Ole Miss for me,” she said. “It still is Ole Miss and forever will be.”
By Edwin B. Smith