University of South Carolina

Donít wait to be leaders, USC grads urged

By Megan Sexton,, 803-777-1421

The University of South Carolina’s new graduates were encouraged Saturday morning to give back to the state what it needs the most – leadership.

“We want your leadership,” said commencement speaker John Gardner, an educator who made USC an international leader in improving students’ first-year experience. “This is what we have been preparing you for. This is what South Carolina most needs – developing and developed new leaders, educated and shaped by the Carolina experience. This is how we will measure our effectiveness in whatever we do.”

Speaking to degree candidates from all eight USC campuses at the Colonial Life Arena, Gardner praised Carolina President Harris Pastides for making leadership a signature emphasis of his presidency, and for doing “everything he can for our university to produce future leaders.”

“All of you do not have to wait to be leaders. You can go forth now and be leaders in your new work settings. Let them know where you were a student,” Gardner said. “You can be leaders in your graduate school programs, in your neighborhoods, in your churches, in your military careers, anywhere.”

“My time at USC has been unforgettable – the best four years of my life. I have a better future because of the education, the friends and the experiences I had here.”

- James Tundidor Jr., Summer 2012 international business graduate

The university awarded 1,502 degrees to baccalaureate, master’s and professional-degree recipients at the Saturday (Aug. 4) morning ceremony, including 1,092 from the Columbia campus.

Marlena Mills Smalls, founder and director of the Hallelujah Singers, a nationally known touring group whose performances have helped draw attention to the Gullah culture of the South Carolina Sea Islands, was awarded the honorary degree of doctor of music. Gardner, the former director of USC’s University 101 program and founder of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, received the honorary degree of doctor of education.

In his commencement address, Gardner encouraged the graduates to give thanks for everyone who helped raise, love and support them along their path, and urged them to take steps to improve any frayed relationships. 

“Students, if you have any major outstanding differences with your parents, family or spouse, this is a great transition time in your life to take the initiative to work that out. Make your peace with them before you no longer have the opportunity,” Gardner said. “What we need in this country is more peace.”

For students in the Colonial Life Arena, Saturday morning’s ceremony marked both an ending – and a beginning – of their journeys.

Morgan Henley, who earned her degree in political science from the College of Arts and Sciences, will be heading to the Czech Republic to study languages.

“I studied abroad my junior year and fell in love with the country. I’d like to work with the U.S. government and the Czech Republic government,” said Henley of Jacksonville, Fla.

James Tundidor Jr. was graduating magna cum laude in management science and international business from the Darla Moore School of Business. Tundidor, of Hialeah, Fla., has landed a job with an import-export business.

“My time at USC has been unforgettable – the best four years of my life,” he said. “I have a better future because of the education, the friends and the experiences I had here.”

Kenya Bryant
Kenya Bryant

Kenya Bryant has been employed as the assistant executive director with the Richland County Recreation Commission while he pursued the master’s in public administration degree he earned Saturday.

“My classes have been perfectly in tune with my job. I deal with management, strategic planning, human resources,” he said.

Jenny Ramsey earned her bachelor’s in nursing from USC Upstate after a “challenging” spring. She worked full time as a nurse on a medical-surgical floor at East Cooper Medical Center in Mount Pleasant, S.C., took a full load of courses online and she is expecting a baby in October. In response to those obstacles, she earned a 4.0 grade-point average for the semester.

“It’s been challenging,” she said. “But it’s been great.”

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Posted: 08/04/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/04/12 @ 2:04 PM | Permalink