JTC 24: Student, Veteran, Mother Refuses to Give Up

Regeana Peeler 'returned with a purpose' to Ole Miss

A young woman wearing a black polka dot top stands in front of a brick wall with her arms crossed.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

From her childhood in foster care and active duty in Afghanistan to the Chancellor's Honor Roll at the University of Mississippi, Regeana Peeler has learned that perseverance earns success.

When she crosses the stage in May and receives her bachelor's degree in psychology, she will do so as a Fulbright finalist, a mother, an honor roll student and a veteran. But most of all, it will be as someone who refused to give up.

"I think that everything happens for a reason," Peeler said. "Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what that reason is, but I wouldn't change one thing on this journey. Because even when things were bad – and I mean, things got bad – I'm still here and I'm still pushing forward. I'm persevering."


Regeana Peeler, a veteran, mother and nontraditional student, will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in psychology in May. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

When you ask Peeler how she got to Ole Miss, she smiles and says, "Well, that's a long story."

The story involves growing up in foster care, a childhood on the move, enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserves and a quick stint at Ole Miss in 2012-13 before having to leave school due to academic suspension. She moved to Texas and took up part-time and full-time work – often at the same time – to make ends meet.

In August 2016, she gave birth to her daughter, Kennedee, and less than a year later, she was training to deploy to Afghanistan. In February 2018, she left her home country for the first time and landed in the desert.

For the next six months, she served in the tactical operations center, drawing out routes for clearance and manning radios. She learned to sleep on edge, always wary of the warning bell that signaled an attack.

"In the middle of the night, we'd get woken up by the alarm that signaled they were shooting at us," she said. "It wasn't every night, but it felt like every night."

She recalls the night a bomb went off beneath one of the trucks entering the base, how the sky lit up in front of her as she ran to inform the officers on duty.

"That's how crazy I was," she said, flashing that bright smile again. "I wasn't even on duty, but we were running toward it."

When she returned home, she took a job as a cashier at Dollar General, where she quickly moved up to assistant manager and then manager. A little more than a year later, however, she was ready for a change. She was ready to go back to school.

"Everyone told me I could go anywhere, but I wanted to finish what I started," she said. "I wanted to finish it here, and that's how I got to Ole Miss."

I think that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what that reason is, but I wouldn't change one thing on this journey."

In the spring of 2021, Peeler returned to school and on Christmas Day, she gave birth to her second daughter, Stormee Gracelynn.

"Her name means, 'In the midst of storms, God gives us grace,'" Peeler said. "And that's what I was going through – a storm."

On campus, Peeler approached her teachers and asked if she could bring Stormee to class until she could get day care.

Regeana Peeler (right) spends time with her daughters, Kennedee (top left) and Stormee Gracelynn. Submitted photo

"They were good about it, and I was lucky because she was such a good baby, so she started coming to class with me," she said. "If you saw me at the bus stop, I had her strapped to the front in a little carrier, I had her diaper bag on my back and then I had my backpack.

"It was stressful, but I wouldn't change it."

Peeler finished that first semester with all A's while juggling a part-time job, saving money for a car and mentoring children for Jumpstart. Along the way, she met Stelenna Lloyd and Andrew Newby at the Office of Veteran and Military Services and Lynn Wilkins in the Department of Human Resources, who helped arrange child care and connected her to academic resources.

"We saw there was a need, so I said, 'Well, Stormee can stay with me,'" said Lloyd, operations coordinator at Veteran and Military Services. "So, Stormee would sit in my lap, and we would get work done."

Lloyd first met Peeler as a young mother in 2021 when she had just returned to school. Peeler first came to the George Street House – the hub of Veteran and Military Services – to apply for her benefits to pay for college.

As the semester wore on, however, Peeler became more active in VMS, serving as a work-study student and doing homework in the house's study hall, Lloyd said.

"As we're going, she started telling me her story," Lloyd said. "She's got her hand in everything. She's the kind of person who wants to be able to provide for her kids and give them everything she didn't have growing up."

As she continued her education – where she has maintained her position on the Dean's List or the Chancellor's Honor Roll each semester – Peeler also became a leader in the UM Gospel Choir and committed more than 300 hours to Jumpstart as a team leader, helping young students learn to read.

"She wants to give back to the community," said Vivian Ibrahim, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. "I think that speaks to who she is.


Regeana Peeler is an active member of the UM Gospel Choir and has committed more than 300 hours to Jumpstart, where she helps children learn how to read. Submitted photo

"She's got grace and authority. She's passionate. She didn't just come back; she came back with purpose."

This spring, Peeler applied for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program, through which she hopes to bring her love for helping others to Uganda. As of late April, she is an alternate for one of the coveted positions.

"For Regeana, it's very much about the legacy she wants to leave for her family," Ibrahim said. "She's the kind of person who really listens, who understands people. She talks to everyone – regardless of age, whatever – the same way. I think that's really special."

When you ask Peeler about the future, she flashes a smile and says, "Well, that's another story."

But if her past achievements are any indication, it will be a story worth telling.

See more photos from Regeana Peeler's Journey to Commencement


Clara Turnage, University Marketing and Communications



April 27, 2024


Regeana Peeler

A group of young people all wearing shirts that read 'UMGC' pose for a photo.

Regeana Peeler, (fourth row, right, holding daughter Stormee Gracelynn) poses for a photo with the UM Gospel Choir, where she serves as business manager. Submitted photo

Two children ride a carousel horse.

Regeana Peeler’s daughters Kennedee (right) and Stormee Gracelynn ride a carousel. Peeler has juggled motherhood and volunteer work while earning her psychology degree at Ole Miss. Submitted photo

A young woman stands in front of a brick wall with her arms crossed.

After growing up in foster care, deploying to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserves and giving birth to two daughters, Regeana Peeler will graduate from UM in May with her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services