Graduate’s legacy of perseverance rings true

The life-altering moment struck April 2, 2007, when doctors told Wesson High School junior Ben Head that his seemingly minor injury was a critical concern. The medical team soon diagnosed him with reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, or RSD, a rare, incurable nervous system disorder that causes chronic, severe pain.

Not being one to give up easily, Ben viewed the diagnosis as a small setback, and he refused to let it interfere in the pursuit of his dreams. In fact, it became his driving force.

Ben was a star athlete with big dreams of college, and despite learning to cope with constant discomfort and recurring flare-ups, he began his first semester at Copiah-Lincoln Community College immediately after high school.

Ultimately, RSD forced the pained and exhausted student to postpone his education. Ben, along with his parents, Ira and Cherry Head, sought help from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where he participated in its extensive pain management program. Eventually, Ben returned to his studies, only to be delayed again by an emergency surgery.

Ira and Cherry Head cherish keepsakes of their late son, Ben.

Determined to complete his education, Ben later enrolled at Mississippi State University, where he harnessed his debilitating syndrome into a driving form of motivation. Throughout his time as an MSU student, Ben worked as a personal trainer at the Joe Frank Sanderson Center
He explained that assisting students in developing exercise programs was his encouragement to get out of bed each day despite his pain.
In addition to the loyal friendships he made on campus, Ben also fell in love with a Bulldog classmate, Maureen Hughes of Starkville, to whom he was eventually engaged.

“On many occasions, Ben amazed me with his confidence, kindness, perseverance and humility,” Hughes shared. “He was a teacher and a friend, as well as my first love, and our relationship will always have a profound impact on the way I see things day to day.”

In 2013, after years of persistence, Ben graduated with a bachelor of accountancy from the Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy at Mississippi State. Hughes also completed her degree in the same major, and Ben began a career with Dillard’s Inc. in the corporate management-training program.
“It meant so much when he graduated from MSU because he had fought through his pain and persevered,” Ben’s mother said.

She credits much of her son’s academic success to the faculty and staff at MSU, as well as the help he received from the university’s Disability Support Services.

“Ben was always able to connect with his professors,” explained Ben’s father. “He was the type of student who was waiting outside their door to ask a question if he didn’t understand something, and he was always willing to help other students who were struggling in their classes.”

Because of Ben’s willingness to help others, his parents chose to establish an endowed scholarship to memorialize their only child forever following his untimely death soon after his 2013 graduation.

“We chose to create an endowment because we never want it to end,” Ben’s mother explained. “Ben loved Mississippi State University and always wanted to be here. As parents, we have worked for our child all of our lives. If we can’t leave something for him, what is better than to leave something for other students in his name?”

The Benjamin Taylor Head Memorial Scholarship will assist recipients pursuing a degree from the Adkerson School of Accountancy. Eligible candidates will be full-time junior or senior students who demonstrate academic achievement with a 2.5 grade-point average. The recipients must be Mississippi residents, and preference will be given to students associated with the MSU Disability Support Services.

Preserving a legacy of perseverance, the Benjamin Taylor Head Memorial Scholarship endowment will continue to inspire students for generations.

“Just because Ben isn’t here doesn’t mean he can’t keep making an impact,” his mother said.

By Addie Mayfield