Campus administrators, faculty, friends and family members gathered Tuesday [Jan. 28] to honor Donald M. "Field" Brown, Mississippi State's recently named Rhodes Scholar.
University President Mark E. Keenum praised the Vicksburg senior as "one of the most outstanding college students in all of America, and I would say in all the world."
Brown was selected late last year as one of 32 American students for what widely is considered the world's most prestigious international fellowship. Following May graduation, he will enroll at the University of Oxford in England to pursue master's degrees in English and American literature. He eventually plans to seek a doctoral degree at an American university.
The Vicksburg High School graduate is enrolled in MSU's Shackouls Honors College, where he is completing a double-major in English and philosophy.
Keenum, an honors college faculty member, told those in attendance that he came to quickly recognize Brown as an exceptional student while teaching him in a leadership seminar course. The chief executive also noted that other Rhodes selections this year are from such institutions as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, M.I.T., and Carnegie Mellon universities.
"Field will be in some good company but he won't take a back seat to anybody," said Keenum, prior to presenting Brown with gifts that included an MSU-embossed travel bag packed with MSU-branded apparel.
Tommy Anderson, associate professor of English and director of the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, told the audience about Brown's determination to do all that he could to prepare for a future as an academic professor. Brown was diligent in pursuing the honors college's Summer Study Program in Oxford and a student research position at California's Stanford University, Anderson explained.
"He began to put his academic pursuits in the real-world context," Anderson said, adding that Brown was undaunted by a Rhodes selection process that is very vigorous and typically draws applications from thousands of top students.
"Field is a young man who knows what grounds him even as he begins an exploration of the limitless and profound possibilities that lie in front of him," Anderson said.
Chris Snyder, Shackouls Honors College dean, also praised Brown's unrelenting pursuit of knowledge.
"Over the last few months I have heard many MSU professors, students, and staff talk about Field Brown, and the one quality of his that comes up again and again is humility," Snyder said. "We at the university are impressed by this virtue, but we had nothing to do with this--it comes from his faith and his family.
"These are the strong foundations upon which an impressive academic career is being built," he added.
Brown, son of Willie and Cynthia Brown, responded to the speakers' praise with his typical humility. In thanking family members and MSU faculty and administrators, he observed that the road to becoming a Rhodes Scholar requires "a community" of support and encouragement.
Brown's parents were accompanied by their other son, Willie Brown Jr., an MSU bachelor's and master's graduate who now works at the university. Field Brown said his brother is "the person who has seen me at my worst and seen me at my best, and still loves me."
The grandson of a Baptist minister, Brown regularly has credited his family and their Christian faith as his cornerstone.
Snyder said he and Anderson both were captivated by Brown's personal narrative, especially the role that his grandfather played in his spiritual and intellectual journey.
Brown's father said his first reaction upon hearing of his son's selection as a Rhodes Scholar was to thank God. "Our prayer all the time was for whatever God's will for Field's life was to be fulfilled," Willie Brown said.
The senior Brown also said he was most proud when his son said he would not be disappointed if not selected as a Rhodes Scholar because the journey to become a finalist had been such an enriching experience where "all of his competitors were such great and wonderful people."
"I was more proud of him for saying that than for anything else he's ever done academically," Willie Brown said.
Like the son, the father expressed gratitude to Mississippi State University for being an institution of integrity. "I'm really proud of this university for what they did for both of my sons," he said adding that the higher education experience both met and exceeded what MSU student recruiters had once conveyed to him and his son.
"They did exactly the things they promised, and I will be extremely grateful for the rest of my life," Willie Brown added.
The guest of honor took his opportunity at the podium to present a gift to the Shackouls Honors College library in hopes, he said, of encouraging future Rhodes applicants at MSU. He presented Snyder with an inscribed copy of Philip Ziegler's "Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships," (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2008).
A plaque with Brown's picture unveiled during the ceremony will be prominently featured on the honor college's Wall of Fame in Griffis Hall. A framed replica also was presented to his parents.
Judy and Bobby Shackouls, the college's benefactors and namesakes, were among those in attendance. "Field is a great human being and a terrific student," Bobby Shackouls said.
Snyder concluded the program by expressing his happiness "that Field has chosen an academic profession, and we look forward to hearing more about his pilgrimage to Oxford and beyond."
For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.