Enjoy the journey, Coach Ray Tanner tells graduates
The graduates receiving their degrees Monday (Dec. 13) from the University of South Carolina may feel like they have reached a destination. But commencement speaker Ray Tanner, coach of USC’s national championship baseball team, urged them to look at the day as a fresh start.
“Whatever direction you go, enjoy the journey,” Tanner said. “It’s OK to set new goals, focus on them and see them through, but as you roll up your sleeves and go to work, do so with your head on a swivel. As a young professional, I put my head down and plowed forward only to learn later that the beauty of life is appreciation of the journey. I encourage you to live your life as a journey, rather than a series of destinations.”
The December commencement ceremonies at the Colonial Life Arena celebrated the accomplishments of more than 2,500 degree candidates from Columbia and the seven regional campuses. Former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, who earned undergraduate and law degrees at Carolina and who served two decades as mayor of South Carolina’s capital city, was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws. Norman J. Arnold, a Columbia businessman, philanthropist and public health advocate, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Tanner, whose team brought home the university’s first national championship in a men’s team sport, spoke of the importance of understanding the need to accept and learn from failure. He drew upon the words of the late Jim Valvano, the basketball coach and athletic director at North Carolina State University, who hired Tanner to be the head baseball coach when he was just 27 years old. When Valvano, who was stricken with cancer, received the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, he encouraged everyone to laugh, to think and to cry each day.
“I must confess that I don’t have a quick trigger on crying, although I might have cried if Jackie Bradley had struck out in the 11th inning against Oklahoma in Game 3,” he said. “There were tears of joy after Scott Wingo touched home plate against UCLA in the final game.”
But Valvano’s point was to experience all that life has to offer, learn from it, serve the community and be a role model to young and old, Tanner said.
One of those graduates getting ready to be a role model is Corey Jenkins, who returned to USC earlier this year at age 33 after careers in baseball and professional football. He walked across the stage at the Colonial Life Arena on Monday, receiving his bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the College of Arts and Sciences. He is planning a career in coaching.
“It’s definitely been a journey, but I’ve truly enjoyed it,” said Jenkins, who played quarterback for the Gamecocks. “It was tough sometimes – I was out of school for so long. But here we are on the big day. My family is all here, my friends. I talk to kids about staying in school, and some of them are here today, too. It’s a big, big day.”
Another student getting ready to step out was Danielle Wilson of Columbia, who was graduating with a degree in dance performance. Her next step will be auditioning in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
“The goal is to be in New York,” said Wilson, 24, a graduate of the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts. “I’m ready. USC has a great dance program. I’ll miss dancing here.”
Her friend, Wesley Goodwin Jr., was receiving his degree in electrical engineering and already has a job lined up with Eaton Corp. He starts Jan. 24.
“I was able to do everything I wanted here,” said Goodwin, 23, a graduate of Columbia’s Richland Northeast High School. “I joined a fraternity, I had a good time and the electrical-engineering program is great. We’re doing big things here.”
Also at Monday’s commencement, Sarah Tholstrup was making history as the university’s first environmental-science graduate. The College of Arts and Sciences began offering a bachelor’s degree in that program in fall 2009. It is offered through the School of the Environment, part of the new School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment. Tholstrop chose the South Carolina Honors College when she graduated from Chapin High School because she received a scholarship, and it offered her the chance to major in statistics.
“Then I started minoring in environmental studies, and I enjoyed that more than statistics,” Tholstrup said. “When the major was available, I jumped on it.”
“I really enjoy the wilderness sorts of things,” she said. “I loved my ecology class and Rudy Mancke’s natural history of South Carolina. That class made me want to minor in it in the first place.”
For now, she is looking for a job in outdoors education and eventually wants to go to graduate school. Long-term, she sees herself possibly working with kids as part of the National Park Service.
Another first at USC came during the doctoral hooding ceremony earlier Monday at the Koger Center for the Arts, where Deborah Del Mar Soto-Ortega became the university’s first Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, receiving her degree from the College of Engineering and Computing.
As the graduates leave the university with their new degrees, USC President Harris Pastides urged them to “go out and improve the world.”
“Graduates, we want you to find gainful employment or pursue graduate studies, but we also want you to shine your bright light of leadership while serving as a beacon to others, as this university has been a beacon to you,” Pastides said. “Remember always to shine your light of warmth and wisdom on those who are the least fortunate among us.”
And also remember, as Tanner told them, that wherever they go, they will always be 2010 national championship graduates.