Any day of the week you will most likely find twenty-four-year-old, Mary Katherine Perry behind the counter of Katherine Beck, a gift boutique located on the charming Oxford Square. It is the end of a workday and the spotless space looks like it could just be opening. Mary Katherine is busy as she walks swiftly around the store in her bright red skirt, matching top, and sparkling earrings. She is making sure everything is in order, down to the last price tag on a package of decorative napkins.
In a store packed to the brim with jewelry, monogrammed everything, grove décor, and bright Easter decorations, etc. it is an Ole Miss prepster’s dream come true. When first walking into Katherine Beck you might miss Perry as her polished yet preppy style seems to match much of what is for sale at her boutique, which is much like her baby at the moment.
“I love babies, it’s a weird obsession. I’m 24 and I still will go babysit after work,” said Perry. Originally from North Carolina and a Class of 2011 Marketing major and Ole Miss graduate, Perry has watched her store transform from a mere idea into a flourishing business, just as a baby grows and into an adult.
Perry’s idea for Katherine Beck started as a secret in its early stages. “I remember coming down for double decker and I was secretly looking at spaces, nobody knew,” said Perry. The idea started in January of 2013 and the lease was signed at the beginning of this past July. The day after the lease was signed Perry left for market to buy everything for the store to start up. “It was pretty crazy, we went from an idea to store front in a really short amount of time because then we opened at the end of August,” said Perry.
It is evident that Perry, already a successful business owner, makes things happen and knows what she wants. “I have always wanted to do my own thing,” said Perry.
Being her own boss at such a young age has spurred others to wonder about Perry’s ambition but to Perry age is truly just a number. She believes no matter what age you are you can do anything. “I think when you’re young you have that much more of an advantage because I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t have anything holding me back,” said Perry.
With nothing holding her back, Perry and Katherine Beck continue to be the monogram mecca for Oxonians. To Perry the best part of the store is meeting new customers who have traveled to Oxford and making sure they make the right purchase. “I love helping customers find whatever they are looking for,” said Perry.
But Perry wouldn’t even have customers without the support she has received. Thanks to her family, boyfriend Chip, close friends, and generous locals Perry has been able launch Katherine Beck into success. Her mother, Becky Jaskey, is a supporter and also an inspiration. The proof is in the boutique’s chic name. “My name is Mary Katherine and my mom’s name is Becky so we combined it to be Katherine Beck,” said Perry.
Jaskey serves Katherine Beck as creative director and proud mom. “It just feels like a major achievement. It feels like our seed was planted and we were able to see it actually come to fruition and just to watch it grow and her grow is pretty awesome as a mom,” said Jaskey.
Perry’s style is not one that only a mother could love because due to the store’s booming business it is obvious everyone adores Perry’s style. “My style is preppy with bright colors and southern traditional but modern as well,” said Perry. This unique personal style translates into the store. Every product that comes through the doors gets Perry’s preppy approval first.
But don’t let the business owner with the un-smudged monogram necklace fool you. The truth is, Perry is committed to another form of work she loves and sometimes it includes a not so glamorous hair net. Perry has been on three mission trips to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. She also arranged, the first ever college Pack-a-Thon (this is where the hair nets come in) to benefit the organization Feed The Hunger by packing nutritious food for the poor and malnourished people of Africa. Much like her devotion to her business her commitment to Feed The Hunger also started at a young age. “I always wanted to go to Africa,” said Perry.
As a sophomore in college, Perry went on her first trip to Kenya and Zimbabwe with New Directions International, an organization over Feed The Hunger. Jaskey found out about this opportunity through their church. Perry, Jaskey, and a sorority sister of Perry’s went on the trip and loved it. “We just saw a need and knew we wanted to help, there’s so much need all over the world and you can only do so much so we decided that Feed The Hunger would be perfect,” said Perry.
When Perry came back form the trip she was determined to make the Oxford community involved with Feed The Hunger. After telling her friends of her service in Africa their interest in going themselves sparked another trip to Africa. With multiple trips to Africa under her belt, Melinda Staples, a leader at Feed the Hunger, challenged Perry to do more. She challenged Perry to have the first ever college Pack-a-Thon. “We worked our little tails off and we were the first college to ever do a Pack-a-Thon,” said Perry. Perry was the leader of this endeavor and the event’s success is credit to her job well done and the support of the Ole Miss Campus.
The first Pack-a-Thon was a crazy experience for Perry but also a crazy success. In its debut the Pack-a-Thon raised almost $60,000 and packed 142,000 meals. “Much like starting the store that was a crazy whirl-wind too,” recalls Perry.
The meals and money raised went straight from Oxford to Africa to help the malnourished children. “Seeing the kids malnourished was so hard to see because you know they are dying. Then leaving them knowing you have to go and they have to stay was the hardest parts,” said Perry. But the most rewarding part of her trips with Feed The Hunger was seeing how much of a difference everyone could make by going on the trips or participating locally at the Ole Miss Pack-a-Thons.
Today Ole Miss Feed The Hunger Pack-a-Thons still go on and have packed all together a whopping 500,000 meals. Trips to Africa through Feed The Hunger also continue by taking girls from Perry’s sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma and giving them the chance to serve and deliver the meal packs made during the Pack-A-Thons.
Perry believes that through service you find yourself and the college experience is a pivotal time to find your niche in an organization you love where you can work to make a difference. “In college you’re trying to figure out who you are and I think giving back helps that,” said Perry.
Perry’s friends can’t help but admire her amazing accomplishments and feel inspired by the person she has grown to be. “I think it’s awesome that Mary Katherine started her own business especially being so young. Not only does she run Katherine Beck, she finds time to help with Kappa and Feed the Hunger. She is definitely someone I look up to,” said close friend, Alli Bridgers.
Just like the many monogrammed marked items flowing out of her doors at Katherine Beck into Oxford, Perry has also left a special mark that stretches from Oxford to Africa. Even with a successful business on her plate she knows it’s important for the unfortunate to have food on theirs.
Ole Miss is attracting record-breaking freshman class sizes and shows no signs of slowing down. This growth has been going on for 19 years straight, giving Ole Miss the highest enrollment in the state of Mississippi.
While college admission nationally is declining, Ole Miss admission is experiencing quite the opposite trend here in Oxford, Miss. The fall of 2013 brought the largest freshman class that Ole Miss has ever seen, with an enrollment of 22,300 students. This is a 3.5 percent rise in enrollment and 7 percent increase on campus. According to the United States Census Bureau college enrollment in the fall of 2012 fell by half a million from the previous year.
This makes for the largest freshman class in Mississippi history, with higher ACT scores and student retention, according to University of Mississippi News.
The university is already making changes in order to accommodate this influx of students COMMA especially regarding student on campus housing. “Due to the growth of our incoming class, we will only be able to offer housing to a limited number of our returning students,” said a University of Mississippi Department of Housing document.
This is news to current freshmen girls who were expecting to live in Crosby dorm, which is primarily a sophomore girl’s dorm with the exception of the 5th floor being freshmen girls. “Not only is this inconvenient, having to drive to campus everyday for class next year, I also feel unwanted,” said Hallie Knotts, a freshman Intergrated Marketing Communications major.
Even though the chances are slim, if you are lucky the department of housing is offering very limited spaces in the Campus Walk apartment complex or the residential colleges to returning freshman with two semester’s worth of completed on campus residency, sophomores, and upperclassmen.
Ole Miss can credit many things to the growing population of incoming students: Perhaps, the campus being named the most beautiful by the Princeton Review, Oxford being ranked the 2nd best college town by Livability.com and Forbes naming Ole Miss No.18 on their list of best value colleges. Also there are the nationally ranked academic programs, like the School of Accountancy ranked in the top 10 in the United States, and the variety of majors that the university provides.
Senior Journalism major Olivia Rearick likes to think of her graduating class as “The Blind Side year” in that they were the first freshman class after the movie debuted. Just like the movie debuted big so did her class. “At the time our freshman class was a record breaker. However, each year the freshman class is only getting bigger,” said Rearick.
Unlike Rearick, who is about to finish her college career, the new freshman rebels will start theirs with orientation this summer. The university has even added another orientation date at the end of June and beginning of July for this record-breaking class. What may seem like a daunting task to most; making thousands of freshman familiar with campus is exciting to the orientation leaders of Ole Miss who get to greet them first. “The orientation leaders are just excited to have more incoming students and meet and introduce all the new faces to the legacy of Ole Miss,” said junior orientation leader and Anthropology major, Grace Meyers.
Ambassadors of the university take freshman on campus tours and get to see first hand who Ole Miss is attracting among high school students. “There are definitely a wide variety of geographic regions represented from Virginia to California,” said Paige Gremillion, a senior Political Science major who was an ambassador her junior year. Gremillion believes it is the price of out of state tuition that attracts students from out of state, which is lower than other public universities, at around $33,000 for a non-resident full time undergraduate student.
Chancellor Dan Jones believes that it is all these great things together that make Ole Miss a great choice for college. According to University of Mississippi News, “High school students and parents across Mississippi and throughout America are evaluating universities more closely than ever, and they’re focusing on four attributes: nationally-recognized academic excellence – which translates into a diploma that will be recognized and valued everywhere – exciting careers after graduation, a competitive price and a collegiate experience they’ll treasure for a lifetime,” said Chancellor Dan Jones.
Rearick would also agree that her college experience here at Ole Miss was one of a kind and what she loves about Ole Miss is the family feeling you feel around campus. “You are not a statistic or student ID number like at other schools. You are supported, encouraged, and recognized for your worth to the university,” said Rearick.
Ole Miss is sure to accept yet another record-breaking freshman class this Fall. Welcome, Class of 2018.