MSU-Meridian graduates include one couple, two degrees

MERIDIAN, Miss.—Keith and Valerie Cullum have double the reason to celebrate Mississippi State University-Meridian’s fall commencement.

During Friday’s [Dec. 12] graduation ceremony at the MSU Riley Center, the couple will become the first members of their respective families to earn a bachelor’s degree. They are among some 100 candidates who will walk across the stage at the 11 a.m. event.  

Keith, 25, and 22-year-old Valerie first met in December 2011 during a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, class sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was pursuing a dance degree at the University of Alabama, while he was attending Meridian Community College after a two-year church mission.

They married in July 2012, eight months after having met. Settling in Meridian and completing their pre-requisites at MCC, both went on to enroll at MSU-Meridian in August 2013. Keith chose healthcare administration; Valerie, management.

Though they’ve spent the entire early period of their marriage as university students, each said the experience has helped them bond. In addition to having a “built-in study buddy,” Keith said they both have “shared goals and a desire to do the best we could.” 

Valerie emphasized how they’ve “also strived to maintain a positive attitude and remember this wasn’t going to last forever.”

The stress of building a life while pursuing degrees might have been even more challenging had they not enjoyed considerable support from their families. Also, they learned how to sometimes “step away” from it all to help reduce the stress and pressure of work and school.

From their experiences, Keith and Valerie have some key advice for other young couples now in school: work hard to reduce your student debt. 

“We saved as much as we could and tried to pay for classes up front when able,” Valerie explained. “We also looked into scholarships and grants and found one through RiseUp Mississippi that has been a huge blessing.”

Valerie said she plans to put her management degree to good use as she continues working with her father-in-law in the family business, Queen City Mini Storage. In January, Keith begins an internship at Anderson Regional Medical Center.

The couple also may begin dealing with a new challenge: how best to use what extra free time they now should have.

As Keith nodded in agreement, Valerie said, “It will be weird but we’ll figure out something to do.”

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Keith and Valerie Cullum are pictured in the MSU Riley Center, where they will celebrate graduation together during Friday’s 11 a.m. ceremony.

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