For some, Ole Miss has been the college they grew up loving, wearing red and blue daily or attending football games with their parents.  For others, it was a campus full of Southern charm with beautiful landscaping and more traditional, family environment. For me, the university is a treasure full of memories, mistakes heartbreaks and learning.

When I was a senior in high school, I remember taking the dreaded SAT and ACT and writing numerous, what seemed like long, college application essays, as well as researching multiple financial aid avenues.  Being from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas, I didn’t grow up supporting one school and never really fell in love with any of the Texas universities.

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My best friend of four years, Emma McPhail.

At 18, I had no idea where I wanted to attend college, but I knew I wanted it to be far enough away from home that I was able to gain independence and learn some lessons for myself.

In October of 2011, my mom suggested visiting Ole Miss. “You know, that school from the Blindside,” she said.  I figured why not, so the two of us visited campus for the Ole Miss vs. Alabama football game where we, through connections, sat on the 50 yard line, Row 3.

Talk about an overwhelming experience.  The Grove was lined with so many red and blue tents, thousands of people drinking, talking and laughing.  The stadium was packed, body to body, even after half-time when the Rebels were getting destroyed by the Crimson Tide.

I wore a red dress and tan wedges, fitting in with the dressed-up culture.  By the third quarter, my feet were blistered, my stomach was growling, and I was exhausted.  I looked at my mom and said, “Let’s go eat, go to bed and go home.  Ole Miss is not the school for me.”

Flash forward to February of 2012.  My brother, Marshall Henderson, who had just finished up his sophomore basketball season at South Plains Junior College and been named the National Junior College Player of the Year, signed to play his final two seasons of college ball with Ole Miss.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

At this point in my senior year, I had decided on attending Oklahoma State University where I would major in journalism.  With one phone call from Marshall, my whole world turned around.  “Come to Ole Miss with me, Paige. It won’t seem too far from home any more since you’ll have me there,” Marshall said.

With that one phone call, I instantly applied for Ole Miss, and within a couple of weeks, I had been accepted, set up my orientation dates and applied for housing.

My first two years at Ole Miss really revolved around basketball and Marshall. Not that it was a bad thing at all – I love basketball, and love my family more than anything.  In fact, my family attended a majority of his games, and the whole experience became a family affair.

My freshman year, I chose not to rush a sorority and, believe it or not, was really shy and reserved.  I didn’t even become friends with my roommate Emma, who is now my best friend, until after living with her for almost three months.

I spent most of my time going to class or hanging around at the basketball practice facility where I would volunteer and help Kara, the men’s basketball secretary, with whatever there was to be done – answering the phone if she was out of the office, sorting through papers, or just sitting on the couch in silence because I enjoyed the environment and her company.

Once the season rolled around, I was engulfed.  I attended all of the home games, including the game vs. Kentucky when I had been in bed for three days with the flu, where I sat front row with Emma and a couple of other girls we befriended.

Most of the people I met my freshman year were from attending basketball games or social media.  Once people found out I was Marshall’s sister, my followers increased, because let’s be real, I don’t post much of anything worth reading or sharing.

In fact, Missouri’s student section, the Antlers, felt it necessary to share my phone number with the world. Needless to say, I changed my number that same day and deleted all of my social media for a few months, but that’s a whole other story in itself.

The 2012-2013 basketball season ended with a loss against La Salle University in the second round of the NCAA March Madness Tournament. But the highlights were winning the SEC Championship, where Marshall was named tournament MVP, getting a bid to the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2002, and beating Wisconsin in the Round of 64 with a score of 57 to 46.

My sophomore year, the Rebels had a roller-coaster season, full of ups and downs.  Marshall’s senior game against Vanderbilt was one of the most joyous occasions I’ve ever been a part of.  If you know who my brother is, then you know the struggles he’s faced and the adversity he’s overcome.

Watching people line up for pictures with him after his last game in the Tad Pad was incredible. I’ve grown up watching him play ball for as long as I can remember. He inspired so many kids, made the game fun for fans, and let his passion for the game run through his veins.

He taught me how to have faith in God and in yourself, that you truly can accomplish anything regardless of what everyone else says.  There are so many moments I vividly remember from his time at Ole Miss, but that last home game is one that the emotions will stick with forever.

His final game for the university was in the SEC Tournament against Georgia. It was a heartbreaking loss that left my family full of tears, heads down in the stands.  Regardless of what everyone else believed, I knew that wouldn’t be Marshall’s last game to play, but I knew that was the last memory I’d get to share with him during our time together at Ole Miss.

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Marshall hugged me after every win, but this was our final hug in the Tad Pad after his senior night.

My junior year, I was 21 years old, still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and now trying to establish my own reputation with Marshall gone. I spent most of this year attending sporting events and enjoying life with my closest friends.

Some people hate social media and think it does more harm than help, but it helped me build my own circle and develop as an individual. Twitter is where I met numerous people who have become a huge part of my life, from families for whom I babysit, to photographers and other journalists, to friends and even ex-boyfriends.

It’s where I was able to, in a sense, network and get some published, written work under my belt.  Evie Van Pelt, a.k.a. @OleMissEvie, allowed me to write articles for The Rebel Walk, as well as work in the press box at L.P. Field for the Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt football game, where I ran The Rebel Walk Twitter account.

She let me come up with my own topics, giving me direction throughout the process, and allowed me to develop as a writer.  I’m extremely thankful for her and the amount of faith she put into me and my work.

Now, four years later from 2012, here I am writing about my experience in Oxford and as an Ole Miss student. I’d go into detail about my senior year, but the easy way to sum it up is to say that I’ve seen so many things come full circle.

If you remember before, my first Ole Miss football game ever was an absolute annihilation by Alabama, but I’ve now witnessed the Rebels take down the Crimson Tide two years in a row.  I rushed the field the first time and sat on the sixth row at Bryant-Denny Stadium this past fall.

Also if you remember, I said I originally wanted to go to Oklahoma State.  Well this past January, Marshall surprised me with front row tickets to the Sugar Bowl where we watched the Rebels take down the OK State Cowboys in a 48 to 20 victory.

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, had many stressed-out meltdowns because I procrastinated or just decided not to try on an assignment, made a couple of bad grades and had some heartbreaks from relationships that just weren’t meant to be.

I’ve lost some friends and hurt some people along the way, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons and found that you have to be happy with yourself before you can try to be happy with someone else.

I’ve met people that will be a part of my life for years to come and made memories that I’ll never forget. I’ve found a home away from home here in Oxford.

Through tears, smiles and laughter, I’ve survived what seemed at times like a long four years, and I wouldn’t change any bit of it.  When I had ruled Ole Miss out, God re-opened the door, knowing this is where he wanted me, and I’m thankful that I listened when he called because this has been one for the books.

 

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