Jim Meade reflects on the last half-century at Southern Miss

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As a young boy, Jim Meade’s earliest teaching experience was as a Boy Scout after he was able to figure out how to tie knots before the others. As a teenager, he gave swimming lessons to children. Years later, Meade was a first-generation college student who went on to gain master’s degrees both in painting and drawing and become an art professor at Southern Miss. Despite participating in extensive international art studies and exhibitions, Meade has called Southern Miss home for nearly half a century.

After teaching for six years, Meade arrived at Southern Miss in 1971. When asked about how the university has changed over the last 48 years, finances are what stood out most.

“I would say a lot has stayed the same over the years, but I’d say what has really changed is the tuition,” Meade said. “Students used to be able to work during the summer and save enough money to go to school for a whole year. Now they work all summer and still have to have a job here in town during the school year.”

This loss of financial assistance for students bothers Meade and, in his opinion, changes the university into more of a business, with students being the paying customers.

“I used to be in business, and my father was in business; I really believe in the business of a college education to help make a different life for these students, their children and their grandchildren,” Meade said.

Thinking back to students who stood out to him, Meade spoke of a graduate student who spent 30 hours a week loading logs onto trucks and drove for Domino’s for 15 hours a week in addition to caring for his young daughter.

“He ended up graduating with flying colors, and I’m really proud of that,” Meade said. “Life is about problems, and he’ll be able to solve problems because he did that while he was [at Southern Miss].”

During his career at Southern Miss, Meade has created about 135 local and international exhibits. He has made drawings since he was a little boy, but he does not consider drawing to be his main focus in the classroom. Instead, his main focus is on the students.

“I have enjoyed helping people get started,” Meade said. “In a way, I teach art. In another way, I teach people how to learn. Education won’t make you any happier; the Greeks believed that a happy person is someone who has reached full potential, and education helps you reach that potential.”

The philosophy of helping others has guided Meade since his early teenage years.

“I grew up in a Methodist church. I remember one Sunday was one of my buddy’s grandfather’s 80th birthday, and he got up to say a few words. He said that he tried to spend his life helping other people; it’s better to give than to receive,” Meade said.

Meade’s personal efforts to help students over the years prove how much he truly believes in their potential. Not only did he design the MFA curriculum in Painting, but he has also spent thousands of dollars on providing books for his students’ use.

“I bought the books for art for the library for 33 years,” Meade said. “I spent a lot of money over those years; I spent around $40,000 in one year on books.”

Over the years, Meade has maintained relationships with his students, even keeping contact with students from the 1970s. His efforts to help his students thrive have paid off; more than 50 of his students have gone on to complete graduate programs at schools such as Oxford, Yale and New York University.

After spending so many years teaching at Southern Miss, Meade still has no desire to leave.

“When I take a vacation, I want to come back,” Meade said. “I loved being in Italy this summer, but I missed my students.” He mentioned that when school started this semester, he spent about a week catching up on his students’ lives.

When asked about how Southern Miss has shaped him, both as an artist and in life, Meade said that it has allowed him to grow and develop naturally.

“In Mississippi, I’ve been able to be myself; I’ve been able to do things at my own pace,” Meade said. He believes that building his career in Mississippi has allowed him to pursue his art and teaching career in a natural way.

“I’m not Buddhist, but I believe in following a natural path. Mississippi has allowed me to have a lot of freedom, a lot of time, and it’s made a living for [my family].”

Meade’s passion for his students is something that he believes will never end. Although the world looks vastly different today compared to the beginning of his teaching career, he still believes in the bigger picture.

“The big lessons in life are not any different for us today than they were in ancient times, and that’s how I deal with teaching,” Meade said. “The important, timeless things.”

Retirement is not in the picture for Meade. “I get asked this about once a week, ‘When am I going to retire?’ And I say, ‘When they pull the chalk out of my cold, stiff hands in the painting studio.’”

“As long as my health holds up and I can find the classroom and my car, I don’t plan on leaving.”