William Carey College Jubilee
November 15, 2004
Dr. Rachel Monk Caldwell
Alumna, Mississippi Woman's College, B.A., 1953
One way of assessing meaning in our lives is to consider the importance of decisions. Some of these are incredibly small, but blossom out when combined with future decisions into major ones; others we recognize immediately as change-making.
I was a senior at Mississippi Woman’s College in 1952-53. My life was full, exciting, and forward-looking. I had received an excellent education, having had the advantage of small classes with professors like Kathleen Taylor, Cecil Jones, Ralph Noonkester, B. F. Smith, Julia Guess, to name some. Still, we students were a “precious few”: enrollment was abysmal. We were becoming concerned about the future of the college we had come to love. President I. E. Rouse had been fighting an ongoing battle to keep the college open, but at times it must have been for him heartbreaking. At the Baptist Convention in my senior year, there was already a push to try to get the Convention to close Mississippi Woman’s College. I think Dr. Rouse feared that it would actually come to a vote at the 1952 convention. I was not privy to all the machinations, but among other things, Dr. Rouse had arranged for the Woman’s College Chorus to sing there.
So, Julia Guess and the entire chorus traveled to Jackson to sing at the last evening session. Miss Guess was a quiet-spoken woman of steel, and had prepared us to sing “O, Divine Redeemer,” which, as some of you doubtless know, expresses a theme of petition for mercy, with words, like “Night gathers round my soul . . . “ and “Ah, Turn me not away.” I don’t know whether our singing had anything to do with what happened, but the vote was not called for, and Dr. Rouse must have seen that as a victory, at least of time, so that he and others could continue to argue for the wisdom of allowing the college to continue.
As a part of my work-study assignments, I had for the past year been playing the Doxology on the organ amplifier just before breakfast every day. It was to wake us up and alert the community to our presence. That night, just before we left Jackson, Dr. Rouse found me and said, eyes blazing, “As soon as you get back, you get over to Tatum and play the Doxology—I don’t care what time it is.” Well, I had a mission, and I couldn’t wait to perform it. All the way to Hattiesburg, I prayed that none of the keys on the small rank of the organ would stick, and that my nervousness would not result in my touching a wrong one.
They didn’t, and I didn’t, and within five minutes of our arrival, the notes of the Doxology flew out into the night. It was, for me, a glorious reminder of survival in the midst of peril, and of the recognition of God’s part in it. The vote did come, and you are here as a result, partly at least, of a decision in Jackson in 1953. When you think about the thousands of lives touched by this college in the intervening years, I think it qualifies as one of life’s big decisions.
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