Mississippi grad, new Marine becomes first person to win leadership award in 10 years

Published 11:01 pm Monday, June 5, 2023

Before she crossed the graduation stage in May, University of Mississippi senior and future Marine Corps officer Holland Morris received an award that hasn’t been given in more than 10 years.

Morris is the recipient of the Martha Lyles Award for Leadership by Example, named for a longtime university staff member who made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. Capt. David Whitehead, chair of naval science, said Morris has more than earned recognition.

“Midshipman Holland Morris defines ‘leadership by example,’” Whitehead said. “She has challenged herself mentally, morally, and physically throughout her time at Ole Miss. She sets high standards for herself and for those she leads, but she is with them every step of the way to guide and mentor.

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“I’m proud of everything that Holland has accomplished and am confident she is going to excel in the United States Marine Corps.”

Morris, a multidisciplinary studies major focusing on biology, Spanish and naval science, grew up as the daughter of a Marine, Jason Lea Morris, and a scholar, Jane Conwell Sykes Bogen Morris. Though she was born in Oceanside, California, Morris said she moved so often as a young girl that no place really felt like home.

That is, until she moved to Ole Miss.

“I grew up in a military family, so making the people around you feel like family has always been so important to me, and that’s something Ole Miss does really well,” Morris said. “As soon as I got to campus, I just fell in love with it. It always felt like home to me.”

Like her father and grandfather, Morris hopes to become a Marine. She is attracted to the rigid structure of accountability and personal growth, the intensity, and the rigorous training. But she also wants to do something that will give back to her country.

“My mom said she knew when I was 5 years old that I was going to be a Marine,” Morris said. “I just think there’s a lot of good that comes out of uncomfortable situations. The Marine Corps refines you as a person, not accepting anything but your best.”

Following graduation, Morris plans to spend her last free summer months working on a farm in Tuscany, Italy, before going to The Basic School, the Marine Corps’ training program, in August. What she does after that is a mystery.

“TBS is ranked,” Morris said. “It’s a competition, but that’s good; it’s how it should be. They find out what your job is based on the needs of the Marine Corps and give you an MOS, a military occupational specialty.”

Morris didn’t know she was receiving the Martha Lyles Award for Leadership by Example until the day of the naval science awards ceremony.

“I’m very honored,” she said. “She sounds like a really great lady, and I’m honored that the characteristics that describe the award are what someone would use to describe me.”

Last given in 2009, the award honors students who are leaders both in the classroom and in their daily lives, Whitehead said.

“Martha Lyles meant so much to so many people on campus,” Whitehead said. “We felt Holland just exemplifies those values. She’ll do extremely well in the Marine Corps, and I think she’ll lead exceptionally well because she takes the well-being of others to heart. That’s what a good leader does.”