By KELLY DANIELS
Dressed in a colorless suit, Kate Thomas leaned over to cry in a ninth-story bathroom stall of a corporate office.
"We couldn't show any emotion downstairs," she said in a high-pitched, Yazoo City accent.
It wasn't long after that day, or having stared at art online when work was done, when Kate decided to go for happy and get her second bachelor's in graphic design.
She left her cozy salary and 401(k) to enroll at Mississippi State University and live off Diet Coke, sandwiches and her new passion without regrets.
She had just turned 27. Her last art class was in the sixth grade.
"This is so much fun for me," she said of spending all day drawing, creating patterns and spacing letters. "It's how I release everything."
Since then, she's not worn the suit again, and instead looks like a version of her vibrant art - yellow, pink, red, aqua, orange.
Now at 30 years old, Kate has no trouble making friends with incoming freshman, jump-starting their knowledge of design out of pure motivation to help. Friends she made during her first semester are now loyal supporters of her work, helping and promoting her with every show or project she exhibits.
Kate will graduate in December and, along with her class, will showcase the first graphic design farewell show for seniors on Tuesday starting at 5:30 p.m. in MSU's Visual Arts Center on University Drive. Her exhibit will also include Christmas cards for people of all preferences, especially cat-lovers.
Filled with paper samples, colors and printouts of her work, Kate's apartment shows the activity of someone consumed by the need to create.
A large Mac, where she spends most of her time, and a specialized printer sit not far from her shabby chic bed.
During an independent study under professor Jamie Mixon last year, she created more than 100 patterns and self-published them in a book called "Repeat," designs which she hopes will be printed on fabrics, wallpaper and floors throughout the world.
Inspired by the rawness and pure colors of folk art found throughout old Europe and Native America, Kate began practicing the philosophy that art should be a part of everyday life for everyone, not just for people able to visit and buy from white-walled galleries.
"Folk art is so raw and genuine," she said. "It has a childlike quality that we lose as adults."
Kate feels that naiveness and innocence must be redeemed in today's difficult world, because those qualities are true reflections of beauty.
"Beauty is not always perfect," she said. "It does not line up all the time, but it's real and it's honest."
Her most recent demonstration of that attitude comes forth in "Little Things Studios," a collection of her "fun" work for all to see and purchase.
"Little Things Studios is, for me, self-indulging because I make things I think I'd want to buy," she said.
"Sometimes my 'little things' is a happy quote on a journal ... because we need that. We all want to feel something again that isn't just pain or frustration or cynicism. We need to believe there's good in the world and good in humanity even. We need Christmas cats. We need yellow."
To see more of what "we need," visit: http://www.ktyazoo.com/  or http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktyazoo/ .
Students of MSU's Graphic Design Program have won national and international awards for their work.
Just a year ago, HOW Magazine featured the program as one of three that should "be on your radar."
Additionally, websites created by many of MSU's graphic design students and alumni are listed in HOW's top 10.
Other graduating seniors join Kate on Tuesday, which include the following: Marci Clayton, Emily Jones, Molly Maynard, Mamie McIntosh, Miranda Means, Jonathan Prudhomme and Desmond Riley.
For a preview of the show, visit: http://www.msuofficesupplies.com .