By Lisa Stone
University of Mississippi
Following in a family member’s footsteps took on heightened meaning for Jasmine Meredith when she decided to pursue a master’s degree in integrated marketing communication at the University of Mississippi.
The oldest granddaughter of James Meredith, the civil rights activist who integrated the university in 1962, Jasmine will walk across the graduation stage on Friday (May 6) to receive her diploma in the same year the university is honoring the 60th anniversary of integration.
In 2002, another watershed moment occurred that influenced Jasmine’s journey to pursue graduate education at Ole Miss. That was the year her father, Joseph Meredith, received his doctorate from UM in business administration and earned the Outstanding Doctoral Student Achievement Award.
A Proud Daddy’s Girl
A self-proclaimed Daddy’s girl, Jasmine’s earliest and likely most significant memories of Ole Miss come from when her father, who died in 2008, was a doctoral student here. Her first childhood memories are of waking up as a 4- or 5-year-old in Oxford, going to class with her dad and learning to swim in the Turner Center pool.
“I was young but I remember spending time in Oxford with my dad while he was pursuing his degree,” Jasmine said. “I made family friends that I’m still in touch with to this day and experienced the Grove at a young age. I have so many memories of being a child in Oxford.”
For those who knew Joseph Meredith, they say that Jasmine shares countless traits with her father. Jasmine’s mom, Yolanda C. Meredith-Dunn, radiates with pride when she describes her daughter as selfless, compassionate and warm.
“She has a passion for getting to know people, has a strong presence and captivates a room,” Meredith-Dunn said. “She was born on the first day of spring and that is her — the sunshine, the rainbows, the butterflies.”
As a student at Ole Miss, Jasmine was humble about her grandfather being an iconic figure so intimately tied to the university’s history. However, she acknowledges that “there is family legacy here.”
“When you go to campus, the Meredith name means something,” Jasmine said. “And maybe it means something more to others, but for me it felt like some type of empowerment to know that my grandpa had the courage to come to this university, followed by my father.
“And then here comes the granddaughter. What is her legacy, and what footsteps is she going to leave on campus?”
James Meredith, who attended son Joseph’s graduation in 2002, will be in the audience Friday night when his first grandchild to earn a degree from the university walks across the graduation stage.
“When my son, Joseph, received his Ph.D. as the outstanding doctoral graduate, his daughter Jasmine was sitting on my lap watching, and I felt the vindication of 1962,” James Meredith said. “Now, Jasmine has received her master’s degree from Ole Miss, just because that’s what she wanted to do.”
In the days leading up to her graduation ceremony, Jasmine can’t help but think about her dad and the photo of the two of them at his Ole Miss graduation in 2002. Although this moment of hers is special, nothing will top sitting in her white dress next to her dad during that milestone accomplishment of his doctoral graduation ceremony.
“That was really special, and I’m glad that moment was captured,” Jasmine said. “It is amazing how things come full circle. This moment and this major accomplishment at the same university makes me feel more connected to my dad.”
Gaining an Edge Through Academic Pursuits
Jasmine graduated magna cum laude from the University of North Texas in 2017, earning a bachelor’s degree from the nationally accredited Mayborn School of Journalism in Public Relations. After working for a few years, she decided it was time to pursue graduate education.
With a career goal of being a sports and entertainment publicist, she discovered that Ole Miss had a dynamic and nationally recognized program in integrated marketing communications. Upon her acceptance, she was awarded a Graduate Recruiting Fellowship and Scholarship in the Excellence in Inclusivity category. She also received a graduate assistantship.
Robert Magee, associate professor of integrated marketing communication in the School of Journalism and New Media, shared that Jasmine sought to make the most of her time at the university.
“If we were discussing epistemology, causality or theory in class, or if we were applying these concepts in a professional context, Jasmine was actively involved,” Magee said. “I still recall times she stopped by my office to chat about intellectual property and campaign strategy.”
While her time in the master’s program was affected by the pandemic, Jasmine enjoyed the time she did get to spend on campus and embraced her experience as a student.
“It was empowering to walk past my grandpa’s statue every day as I went to class,” Jasmine said. “I actually used that as my landmark. It made it easier to navigate campus from there, and during my first couple of times on campus it was comforting.
“I used to sometimes high-five him, haha.”
During her time in the IMC program, Meredith worked on a variety of projects, including an interview of her renowned grandfather. She also helped with numerous events at the Overby Center, which afforded her the opportunity to meet people in the industry and to network with Ole Miss alumni.
“There is a sense of pride in being an Ole Miss student,” Jasmine said. “I like to think that with my IMC degree from Ole Miss, I’m now a triple threat with PR, advertising and marketing — it gives me an edge.”
Magee reflected that Jasmine was able to participate as a typical graduate student because of the choices her grandfather and other people made.
“We tend to live in the moment, but seeing her in class always reminded me that our actions today can benefit generations to come,” Magee said.
Following the Yellow Brick Road
While James Meredith has always just been “grandpa” to Jasmine, as she’s gotten older, she understands and appreciates the significance of what he’s done.
Her mom describes Jasmine’s relationship with James as “phenomenal.”
“They have great conversations and she really loves to spend time with him,” Meredith-Dunn said. “Knowledge is power, and she takes the time to ask him questions. Their relationship has grown as she has grown.”
“I literally have the opportunity to call history in the flesh to get his thoughts on whatever is happening in the world,” Jasmine said. “I cherish everything he says because I’m ready to listen, and by the end, you see how everything comes together.”
When Jasmine made the decision to attend Ole Miss, her mother recognized this as an important step for Jasmine.
“It was a great opportunity for her to see how the world has changed and to walk the same path as her grandfather and father,” Meredith-Dunn said. “I tell Jasmine that ‘Your grandfather and dad paved the yellow brick road better than Dorothy.'”
In choosing to attend the university, Jasmine feels as if everything lined up, it was an easy decision to make and she received continuous affirmation in that decision.
“Serendipity is the word I would use,” Jasmine said. “You can’t let go of the family legacy. Because of the courage my grandpa had years ago, I and many others are able to freely come and earn an education at any university.”
Embracing the Responsibility
As Jasmine is set to earn her graduate degree from Ole Miss 60 years after her grandfather broke the color barrier at the university, she recognizes the personal accomplishment as well as the historical significance.
“I know my dad would be proud,” Jasmine said. “There is no better feeling than to achieve this milestone at a university where there is so much history and family legacy.
“It is empowering to know that later this year we will celebrate the courage my grandfather had 60 years ago that allows me to proudly receive my degree from this university today.”
Jasmine, who serves as an account executive at BBDO Worldwide in Dallas-Fort Worth, also understands and embraces the responsibility of this moment and how her actions today represent opportunities for others tomorrow.
“You’ve got to keep pushing for the next generation,” Jasmine said. “It is great for me, but I hope that with this accomplishment that I can inspire those around me.
“It is so important to me because you never know who is watching, you never know who you touch and you never know who you inspire.”
Perhaps Jasmine’s mother sums it up best.
“I know there is so much more to come with her,” Meredith-Dunn said.