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“The Glue:” USM Staffer Graduating in May Pursued Degree While Balancing Work, School, Family

Wed, 05/08/2024 - 11:45am | By: David Tisdale

USM Graduate

She’s often referred to as “The Glue” in her role as budget manager in The University of 51 Mississippi (USM) Office of Student Life, and Geneal Washam leaned into that invaluable attribute to hold it all together while managing work, family life and her studies to realize a dream deferred.

Washam, a mother of three from Waynesboro, Miss., will receive her bachelor’s degree in business administration Friday, May 10 during USM’s spring commencement exercises on the Hattiesburg campus, one of more than 1,900 students graduating this semester at the university.

Earning her degree will be a ‘mission accomplished’ moment for Washam, who planned to continue her college studies after attaining an associate degree from Jones College in Ellisville in 2001. “My goal was to keep going, but life happened,” she said, hitting the pause button back then to begin raising a family.

She decided to put her foot back on the gas several years later, in a moment of reflection when she decided the time was right to turn the page on her own story.

“One day while at my previous job I sat at my desk after 16 years and said, ‘It’s time for a change.’  I felt stagnate and wanted something different so I could continue to grow professionally in my career,” Washam said. “God led me to USM shortly after.”

Washam moved to Hattiesburg in 2011; she later applied for jobs at USM. Her first role with the university was as office manager in its Office of Fraternity and Student Life, then was promoted in Feb. 2024 to Student Life Connection Budget Manager. Her current duties include aiding the executive director for student affairs in overseeing departmental budgets, forecasting of revenue and expenses of the unit, and providing council advisors and student organizations with administrative support.

“What I like about working at USM is the 51 hospitality, work life balance, and endless opportunities to grow professionally,” Washam said. “By advocating for yourself and actively engaging on campus, you can expand your professional network and enhance your own skills and knowledge to advance your career.

“I absolutely love my job as office budget manager. I’m where God wants me to be.”

Daily contact with students and playing a role in their success motivates Washam. She’s also inspired by the leadership of her boss, executive director of Student Life Dr. Laura Laughlin, who hired her at USM in 2019 as office manager for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

“Dr. Laughlin gives the vision, lays a solid foundation, and as a team we follow and finish building,” Washam explained. “We uplift and empower each other, making our team stronger and more successful.” 

With the opportunity readily available to her as a USM employee to pursue a degree, Washam enrolled in spring 2020 - just as the Covid-19 pandemic was underway - to begin anew what she started years earlier. But she wasn’t oblivious to the challenge of adding another layer of responsibility to her already long to-do list.

“I knew balancing work, a family, active kids in multiple sports, and my studies would be a challenge, but I was ready to get started.”

Washam said the journey that concludes for her this week started out rocky, but she pressed on.

“The support of my family, friends, and coworkers gave me the courage to keep going,” said Washam, a first-generation college student in her family. “That’s major for me, because I feel as if barriers have been broken and I have paved the way for my own children.”

That inspiration seems to have already taken hold, as Washam’s oldest son will graduate from Meridian Community College, also on May 10, with an associate degree in health and science; he plans to transfer to USM. Washam will depart following her commencement ceremony that morning to watch him pick up his diploma in the afternoon. Her daughter will graduate from Hattiesburg High School May 22, with that ceremony also to be held at Reed Green Coliseum; she will attend USM in the fall.

“To know Geneal is to know that she is the epitome of grit,” Dr. Laughlin said. “I can’t imagine this place without her. She’s incredibly hard-working and has determination like no other.

“Even though she always has a lot on her plate, she manages to be kind, patient, and helpful to anyone who needs her. And it’s so serendipitous that two of her three children are also graduating this year alongside her, as they are undoubtedly what she is most proud of. We’re so thrilled to cheer on Geneal on her big day.”

With commencement just days away, Washam is still trying to wrap her mind around the reality of the moment to come.

“I can’t believe it’s finally here - all the hard work, sacrifice, blood sweat and tears were not in vain,” she reflected. “The thought of walking across that stage will be a life -long dream that has finally come true. Every time I think about it, tears begin to fall. Without God none of this would be even possible.

“My favorite scripture is Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all things through Christ Jesus which strengthens me.’ I hope that my story inspires, motivates, and encourages someone else who’s been thinking about furthering their education, or just thinking about stepping out on faith for a change. Only you can determine your success, and delayed doesn’t mean denied.”