SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Matt Waldrup can think of one person who wants to see him graduate more than anyone: his mom.
“Ever since I was little, she always said, ‘I just want to see you grow up, finish your education and be happy,'” said Waldrup, a Memphis native who is finishing his final semester at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center in Southaven. “So not only is this my dream, it’s hers also. Soon we will both be seeing things that we have wanted our entire lives.”
Waldrup, who is set to receive a Bachelor of General Studies on Saturday (May 14), has been caring for his mother since she was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2009. That was the summer that Waldrup planned to enroll as a freshman at the University of Mississippi‘s main campus in Oxford.
The diagnosis was a heartbreaking blow for Waldrup, whose father died of brain cancer just two years before.
“All responsibilities of a husband, of a son, of a caretaker – they fell on me,” he said. “It was very scary because I was still what I would consider a young age. My mom had to endure a lot of treatments, surgeries, etc., and being there alone was hard.”
Two years into his mother’s treatment, Waldrup returned to school. He received an associate degree from Northwest Community College in 2014 before enrolling at the university’s DeSoto regional campus. Waldrup, who also works in Southaven, said that his education “would not be possible” without the convenience of having a campus close to home.
Through his major, Waldrup is minoring in psychology, legal studies and English. Kacy Dixon, academic adviser for general studies majors, encouraged Waldrup during his time at Ole Miss.
“Matt has a lot of perseverance,” Dixon said. “I am proud of him for making it this far. Even when he has setbacks, he picks up and keeps going. It takes a lot of character to tackle those types of responsibilities at such a young age.”
One of Waldrup’s proudest moments during his time at the DeSoto campus was when he realized that he couldn’t go it alone.
“I’ve always been a person who has said, ‘Matt, just do it yourself,'” he said. “‘You don’t have time for your own feelings. You have to put your mom and school first.’ I’ve realized that I’m important also. Reaching out to my counselor, Mr. Brian Adams, and getting the help I needed from Ole Miss was a proud moment for me.”
Counseling services at the university have been essential to Waldrup’s success, he said. Though his mother is still battling severe complications from radiation treatment, he is determined to stay optimistic.
“Even though it has been a struggle, I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I just give it my best every day. Whether it’s school, whether it’s work or at home – no matter what situation I’m in – I give it my best. That’s what I’ve learned. If you try your best, something good will come of it.”
Through the ups and downs of Waldrup’s daily life, he said he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.
“I’ve realized that there are so many people supporting me,” he said. “One of my friends even started a GoFundMe page called ‘Mercy for Matt.’ It is really overwhelming to witness this outpouring of kindness.”
Waldrup wishes to pay it forward by encouraging students who might be in similar situations.
“Never give up, give it your best, count your blessings and don’t look at what’s wrong in your life, but what’s good,” he said. “If you don’t feel that you can do that, then seek some help. Help can always get you to another place like it did me, though I’m still a working progress. With this campus and university, I’ve learned that you aren’t alone.”
After he receives his degree, Waldrup plans to attend law school when the timing is right. Dixon said she looks forward to seeing what Waldrup’s future holds.
“I’m excited to celebrate with Matt and his mom at Commencement,” she said. “It will be a special time.”