Christin Nicole Gates chose the University of Mississippi because she wanted to participate in the full college experience: being challenged academically, having a sense of community and being around a diverse group of students.
Four years at UM have given her all that and more, said Gates, who graduates Saturday (May 14) with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Gates, who was the first black female valedictorian of her high school class in Koscuisko, knew the university would be just far enough away from home.
“Ole Miss forced me to meet new people and branch outside of what I was comfortable with and what I was used to,” Gates said. “I came here with no friends, and I feel like I am leaving with so many friends and family. Not only students, but faculty and administrators who feel like aunts and uncles to me.”
Also a member of Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Gates has been one busy student. She is senior class secretary/treasurer, Columns Society secretary, ASB executive assistant and director of external affairs for the Black Student Union. An Ole Miss First Scholar, a Ronald McNair Scholar and a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholar, she is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honoraries. She is listed on the Chancellor’s Honor Roll and Who’s Who, and was nominated for a Truman Scholarship.
Her extensive public service includes note-taker for UM Student Disability Service, work with the Oprah Winfrey Boys and Girls Club of Kosciusko and volunteering at Azalea Gardens and Graceland Care Center in Oxford.
“We’ve watched while Christin met each challenge with determination and grace,” said Debra Young, associate dean of the honors college. “She excels academically without ever shortchanging her involvement with improving the campus and community or turning her back on her individual goals. We are richer because Christin chose Ole Miss and the honors college.”
Gates said she has learned many life lessons while at UM. “I learned to have a work-life balance, and how to have fun,” she said.
Even making a B in one of her freshman classes, instead of an A, was a lesson.
“I don’t value perfection anymore; I value the obstacles that come with reaching a goal,” Gates said. “Making a B has been the most rewarding experience at the university. It challenged me academically, and it was a test of character. It really had more rewards than I could see at the time.”
Being in the honors college provided a sense of community as well as higher expectations.
“My freshman year at orientation, Dean (Douglass) Sullivan-González remembered our names, and within hours, I already felt like he cared, not only about me as a student but as a person,” she said. “He would always ask how I was doing, so there was a real sense of community and family.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t necessarily sure of myself, but I had the academic potential to grow and flourish, and the honors college was definitely a place where I was nurtured. My hand wasn’t held, but I was able to grow as a student and mature to the point to where I did have the confidence and the skills to apply to Ivy League universities for next year.”
After Saturday’s graduation, her fortitude and skills are taking her to Harvard University, where she plans to earn a master’s degree in educational policy and management. The program is designed to prepare graduates to assume challenging policy and management positions in a variety of governmental, intermediary, nonprofit and other organizations related to education.
“I hope I will be the spunk of the group,” she said. “I really feel like I can compete there and I am very prepared. Even if I have a sense that I’ve hit a wall and am unsure of what to do, I feel like I can make one phone call back to my Ole Miss family and know that everything is well.”