College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Charleston’s Southern Gentleman: Spotlight on Thomas Bullington

from the Daily Mississippian  Staff Writer: Ashley Ball

Sporting a three-piece suit, a bow tie and a pocket square, a gentleman saunters into Bondurant Hall. His debonair style makes him look as though he has wandered from the pages of a British novel, an appropriate conjecture for someone with his job.

Thomas Bullington is a graduate teaching assistant for the University of Mississippi’s English department and a full-time Ph.D. candidate studying 18th-century British literature.

Originally from Charleston, S.C., he came to Oxford several years ago to pursue his doctorate degree.

Bullington says he owes his love of reading and literature to the maternal side of his family.

“My mom’s mom made my dad read Lord of Rings once,” Bullington said. “My dad really liked it a lot. He bought each of us a copy.”

In that moment, Bullington found his literary niche. He continued to read more books like “The Chronicles of Narnia.” He also began writing stories.

However, Bullington did not discover that he wanted to teach until 11th grade.

“I was sitting in my Honors American Lit class, and my teacher asked us who wanted to teach lit,” Bullington said. “I’ll let you take a guess who raised his hand first.”

Bullington speaks candidly on his favorite and least favorite parts of being a teacher.

“I teach 200-level literature,” he said. “I enjoy seeing the transition my students make – from just taking this class because it’s required to actually enjoying the art of literature.”

Grading is his least favorite part.

“I don’t like giving bad grades to students,” he said. “It can be annoying.”

Although his life’s path may seem straightforward, Bullington made it clear that life has not been so easy.

He admitted that getting into a doctorate program was one of the hardest processes of his life.

Bullington applied to six different doctoral programs and was rejected by all of them.

“Everyone always told me how smart I was,” he said. “Then six different schools told me that I wasn’t. I was angry. All my friends were getting into different programs, but I wasn’t.”

So Bullington took an unplanned detour.

He began teaching at a technical college in South Carolina, and after a short tenure there, he applied to a doctorate program again. This time he applied to Ole Miss.

Unwilling to dwell on the negative, Bullington said he believes his experience gave him an opportunity to grow.

“A piece of advice (to college students); Don’t be afraid to take a detour into the real world,” he said.

Bullington said that the “out of school” experience was all he was missing.

Apart from being a scholar and teacher, Bullington is probably most known around campus for his quirky style and unique flair.

“Anything aged 20 years and gone out of style, I probably like it,” he said.

A wardrobe filled with blazers and vibrant bow ties, Bullington has the air of a GQ man.

“Once I asked my students ‘why are you in this class?’” he said. “A guy yelled out ‘To learn how to dress!’”

Students are not the only ones impressed with Bullington’s style.

“Occasionally, I want his bow ties,” said Meredith Harper, another graduate teaching assistant of the English department. “And I suspect everyone else does too. He certainly sets a sartorial standard that is very hard to live up to.”

“My style comes from the cult of the urban southern gentleman,” Bullington said.

Nonetheless, he is not satisfied with today’s modern pleasure that most young adults enjoy. If time machines were real, Bullington said he would revisit Lake Geneva in June 1817 and listen to Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley exchange ghost stories and hear about the birth of Frankenstein.

But for now, he will have to be satisfied with the novels and stories of ages ago.

Behind all the books, bow ties and unplanned detours, Bullington is truly happy. He said he hopes to complete his doctorate program very soon, and receive the first Ph.D. in his family. Although he is not quite sure where he wants to pursue his English profession, one thing is certain – the polka-dotted bow ties will always follow.