Perhaps Our Best-Known Alumni Are Overlooked

We at Ole Miss often recognize some of our many notable alumni in bragging points, advertisements, recruiting materials and public speeches. We even create monuments to them and name buildings after them. They are all extremely accomplished and deserve the recognition. We’ve had alumni who have taken leadership positions on Capitol Hill– U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker and also former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, among many others. UM also had many alumni occupy the Governor’s mansion including Haley Barbour, Ronnie Musgrove, Ray Mabus and William Winter. We’ve had notable alumni in the arts, including actor Gerald McRaney, actress Kate Jackson, writer Greg Iles and Elvis Presley. Alright, Elvis wasn’t an alumnus, but he should have been.

We’ve also shaped the athletic landscape with notable alumni like professional football pioneers Bruiser Kinard and Charlie Conerly, as well as modern gridiron greats Eli Manning, Michael Oher, Patrick Willis and Deuce McAllister. Many have referred to Archie Manning as the patriarch of American football. The diamond has also been well represented with Jake Gibbs, Donnie Kessinger and Lance Lynn. Rebels have also stood on the medal stand in the Olympics and listened to our national anthem, among them Jennifer Gillom and Brittany Reese.

But what about our alums that potentially are most widely known, but receive very little recognition for their affiliation with Ole Miss? The chief surgeon aboard the Starship Enterprise was an Ole Miss alum. A multi-billionaire businessman with enough clout to take on the White House attended the University of Mississippi.  A former beauty queen and partner in a prominent Southern interior design firm was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority at Ole Miss. And small town lawyers who broke down racial barriers with a landmark court case and in the process took on a radical racist organization was a product of the University of Mississippi.  All are extremely prominent in their fields (some fields are still yet to come) but can you name them?

If not, I’m referring to Dr. Leonard McCoy, Raymond Tusk, Suzanne Sugarbaker and the legal team of Jake Brigance, Harry Rex Vonner and Lucien Wilbanks. Oh, and let’s not forget Ellen Roark, who during all the hoopla was still a young, idealistic law student at Ole Miss.

Of course you also know by now that these are fictional characters and never actually traversed the halls of our academic buildings or experienced the beauty of the Grove. For that matter, Dr. McCoy won’t be born for another 104 years. However, they’re still engrained in the legend of the university and represent Ole Miss as much, if not more than those who do exist. What inspires the creators of these characters to associate them with Ole Miss? Is it that they embody the principles of leadership, academic excellence, service and scholarship that the university represents? Is it that they evoke the spirit that sets our university apart as the greatest collegiate experience in the world? That debate will certainly continue over time, but for now let’s accept them among our valued alumni. They in their own right have earned the distinction.