Class of 2017

Pop goes the diploma: Grads with wrong degrees work it out at Pop Brothers

Steve Ellis of Biloxi and Gena Dill of Hamilton had never met until a fateful Saturday in May at Pop Brothers in Gulfport.
Steve Ellis of Biloxi and Gena Dill of Hamilton had never met until a fateful Saturday in May at Pop Brothers in Gulfport. Courtesy

It normally takes several years to receive a doctorate from a major university. But for some graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremony, it only took four years.

One of the recipients of a Ph.D was Molly Dickerson of Ocean Springs, who was attending the ceremony to receive her four-year degree in film studies.

“She opened it up and there was a doctorate,” said Dickerson’s mother-in-law, Gena Dill, of Hamilton, Mississippi. “We immediately knew that she had the wrong diploma, so we planned to return it — but first we took some photos with it.”

Dill and her husband, Terry, deiced to end the afternoon with a frozen treat at Pop Brothers flagship store in Gulfport.

Steve Ellis was among those who attended Saturday’s graduation. And why wouldn’t he? He had put in the work to receive a doctorate in human capital development. He said he was looking forward to receiving his diploma that would certify that he was doctor of philosophy.

The grandfather of five from Biloxi said getting his Ph.D was a personal goal he had set for himself.

“It’s something I really wanted to do,” Ellis said.

He said he and his fellow graduates thought little about it when he opened the diploma cover he had received from USM President Rodney Bennett and it was empty.

“They usually mail diplomas, especially for undergraduate degrees, so I just assumed they would be mailing me my Ph.D,” Ellis said.

So Ellis decided to join his friends with an informal celebration — at Pop Brothers in Gulfport.

Pop (Brothers) goes the diploma

Ellis said he was having a good time at Pop Brothers, enjoying the food and chatting with some of the other customers.

“We met a nice couple and we were talking to them and they, too, had been at the graduation,” he said. “She asked me what I graduated in and I told her that I had received my doctorate of human capital development.”

Then things, Ellis said, started to get interesting.

“She asked me what my name was and I told her and she said, “My daughter-in-law received your diploma,’” Ellis said. “So, we took a selfie and she sent it to her son and he texted me a photo of my diploma — the first time I actually saw the diploma was over a text.”

The diploma is headed home

Ellis said the Dickersons returned the diploma to the registrar.

“I was really glad they did because that’s when they realized there had been a problem — someone grabbed the wrong stack of diploma covers and several undergrads had received Ph.Ds.

He said that as of Tuesday morning, he had still not seen a physical copy of the doctorate, but his wife had picked it up and it would soon be in his possession.

“I wasn’t upset that my diploma cover was empty,” Ellis said. “I was just glad my whole family was there to see me get my doctorate.”

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