'09 grads off and running after commencement weekend
In a rousing cry of “Go Cocks!” Dr. Donald L. Fowler brought graduates of the University of South Carolina’s Saturday afternoon commencement ceremony to their feet.
Then Fowler, a well-known political consultant, advertising executive and educator, told the graduates that the University is a “City on a Hill.” It is, he said, a place of creativity, inspiration, tolerance, and illumination; a catalyst for growth and prosperity; and an institution with the power to influence others to achieve beyond their expected abilities.
The Saturday afternoon ceremony was the third and final one for recipients of bachelor’s and master’s degrees and brought to a close a weekend of commencements on the Columbia campus.
Earlier in the day, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Wayne Clough addressed graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences, and S.C. Honors College. Fowler’s address was directed to graduates of the College of Education; College of Engineering and Computing; College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management; Fort Jackson Military Base Program; Interdisciplinary Programs; School of Music; College of Social Work; and Palmetto Programs.
“This University of South Carolina is by all of these standards our City on a Hill,” said Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“This is not a new role and mission for our university,” he said. “From the vision of our state’s founding fathers more than 200 years ago, until this very hour, the University of South Carolina has always been, by design and reality, our City on a Hill,” he said.
Fowler, who was awarded an honorary doctorate of public service, called the University a “beacon of hope and confidence that will lift us above the mundane to the superlative...and raise the standard of excellence in learning, research, service, the arts, and achievement.”
Among the achievers were Jay Coker of Columbia and Catherine Con of Greenville, magna cum laude graduates from the School of Music who were seated next to each other.
Coker will pursue graduate education at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University. Con is headed to Harvard University for a master’s degree in arts in education, a degree that will enable her to combine her love for literature and music with a desire to help children.
Until he begins his studies at the Peabody Conservatory, Coker said he will work in temporary jobs and attend music auditions.
“My education at Carolina has prepared me well,” said Coker, who comes from a family of talented musicians.
Con’s creative flair showed in the red, high-top tennis shoes she purchased especially for commencement. Although she’s looking forward to her studies at Harvard, she said she’ll miss the University.
“I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss the Horseshoe,” she said. “I have so many memories here.”
Brian Gadsden of Charleston, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, will get up Monday morning and head back to his part-time information technology job in the University’s department of athletics.
Gadsden, who transferred to Carolina from Charleston Southern University, said he started out in business studies but changed his major because of his interest in computers.
“This is a great campus, a great place to be,” said Gadsden, echoing Fowler’s “City on a Hill” theme. “Education has always been important to me.”
Gadsden earned his degree by working and with the assistance of scholarships and loans. Despite the challenges, he was always optimistic about reaching his goal of a college education.
“As long as you have a plan, everything will come together,” he said.
That was true for Greg Smith, 47, of Cayce, who began working on a college degree nearly 30 years ago but left college to join the Air Force and raise a son. After earning a certificate as a culinary chef and attending a junior college, Smith enrolled at Carolina and earned his bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management.
And though he was somewhat reluctant to admit it at first, Smith is on his way to Clemson University. A job with ARAMARK food services is taking him to the Upstate.
But on Saturday, his mind was only on Carolina.
“Today is a day for accomplishment,” he said. “I finished something I started almost 30 years ago. This degree means respect with peers and co-workers. It’s a great day.”