The last time the school had such an honor, Ronald Reagan was president. That should give some indication of how prestigious the award given to Katherine "Kati" Perry is. Perry, a Moss Point native and recent University of Southern Mississippi graduate, was named to the U.S. Fulbright Student Program. She is USM's first Fulbright Student since 1986.
"I'm very humbled," Perry said from Santa Barbara, Calif., where she is working as an online editor for a recent start-up company called Graphiq.
In September, she'll be returning to Spain on an English teaching assistantship for the 2016-17 school year. This time, she'll get to spend time in Madrid. She spent a semester in the southern town of Granada while pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in geography and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, which she earned in December.
Perry was in Spain studying a unique topic for her thesis under the Fulbright program.
"I did my thesis on traditional Spanish food, and how it is a reflection of the physical geography and the history of a region," she said. "The ingredients can be traced back hundreds of years. I studied their progression."
Perry said under the guidance of David Cochran, USM associate professor of geography, she learned of the Fulbright Student Program. Cochran was himself a Fulbright Scholar, in mathematics, Perry said. She credits him with a lot more.
"His tutelage, that was the most impactful thing for me. That's when I put my love for Spanish together with what I learned in geography. And then that's what led me to my thesis," she said.
Now living in California, and having studied in Spain, she said she has acquired a great respect for the state of Mississippi, despite its politics sometimes.
"I miss the South," she said. "Mississippians are much more complex than how many see them. There's a great amount of history here."
She hasn't been home to Moss Point in awhile, but said she hopes that will change soon.
Her mother, Paula Perry, agrees.
Paula Perry said her daughter had, from a very early age, a discipline and drive to accomplish whatever she set out to.
Kati Perry went to Resurrection Catholic School. She was the school's valedictorian in 2011.
"She was born with it," her mother said. "I really didn't have to do or say much while she was growing up. I'm very proud of her."
USM and Hattiesburg have a special place in her heart, Kati Perry said.
"Hattiesburg is a really, really diverse place. It was great to be around that diversity. I learned more from other people than just about anything," she said.
While in Madrid, she'll be spending about half her time in the classroom, and the other half studying.
"I'll be helping students with English in just about every classroom. It could be geography, but it could also be history or even PE. Whatever they need help with," she said.
Unlike many who are accepted into the Fulbright program, Perry ended up getting an acceptance letter her first go-around.
"I was blown away. Honestly, I really didn't think it was attainable. Guess I was wrong, huh?"