Graduating the next distinguished leaders

As students walk across the stage Monday for the final commencement of 2015, the university completes a record year for the number of students earning Graduation with Leadership Distinction on their diplomas.

Nearly 40 students at the December commencement will receive the GLD honor, bringing the total of 2015 graduates to 248. These students engage in beyond-the-classroom learning, document their activities and reflect on their overall college experiences in an e-portfolio. The honor is posted on transcripts and diplomas, which can help as they apply to graduate schools or enter the job market. In 2014, there were 105 graduates with leadership distinction.

Irma Van Scoy, director of USC Connect, says most students initially pursue the GLD because they want the recognition on their transcript and diploma.

"That's what gets them interested, but by the time they finish the process, they can really articulate the significance of their undergraduate education — what they have learned in class and out of class," Van Scoy says. "They end up saying, 'This is one of the most valuable things I've done at USC and now I know where I'm going.' "

More than 850 Carolina students are now pursuing the GLD recognition, with more than 300 expected to graduate in May 2016. Students in every college and school at the university, along with students from the four Palmetto College campuses, are represented in the program.

Van Scoy says the GLD program has helped people understand integrated learning and offers students a chance to take related coursework, demonstrate what they've learned through a presentation, reflect on their undergraduate experience and consider how they will apply learning to lead in the future. Students can choose one of four GLD paths: community service, global learning, professional and civic engagement or research.

One of the students graduating Monday is Max D. Emory of Lancaster, S.C., who will earn his degree in mechanical engineering with leadership distinction in professional and civic engagement. He has accepted a position at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions' Engineering Leadership Development Program.

"Outside of GLD allowing me to learn a lot about myself, it has really boosted my confidence and solidified my thoughts about who I am and what I am passionate about. GLD was not easy to obtain by any means and challenged me in different ways. With the help of my adviser, Lisa Camp, I really enjoyed my experience," Emory says. "We, as college students, are involved in so many different things throughout our journey we don't take the time to look back at what we've accomplished and learned. GLD gave me the opportunity to do just that. I learned a lot about my own experiences, that I thought were insignificant at the time but that really changed the way I think about things today.

"GLD has made me more excited for my future. Not that I wasn't excited before, but seeing other people excited about my passion and where I am headed has really energized me and reassured me that I am on the right track."

Grace Gardner of Cincinnati will graduate with a major of international studies and women's and gender studies and a minor in leadership studies. She plans to move home to Ohio, where she will explore a career in medicine, possibly in an accelerated nursing degree program. She also has applied to the Peace Corps.

She chose to pursue GLD after she applied to be an Emerging Leaders Program mentor in the fall of her junior year. The interviewer pointed out that Gardner already had many of the pieces for the GLD.

"I'm so glad I chose this track at USC because it gave meaning to all the positions I held in my time here. While I loved each experience as I was a part of them, taking the time to reflect on them and connect each leadership role to my learning in the classroom was really powerful," Gardner says. "All the seemingly unconnected positions I held and internships I had mean so much more to me and have given me skills I will carry with me forever. I can definitely market my experience to future employers, too.

"It taught me to identify things you're passionate about and to pursue them, no matter what. It gave me the confidence to do the things I've always wanted to do but have been too afraid to — like the Peace Corps. Most importantly, it showed me that everything we do in college has an impact on other people — even if it's just taking 20 minutes to meet with a U101 student outside of class to really get to know them."

Emory and Gardner are among the 2,668 degree candidates at Monday's 3:30 p.m. commencement at the Colonial Life Arena. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who is retiring this year after leading the city since 1975, will deliver the commencement address.

Walter Edgar, distinguished professor emeritus of history at UofSC and author, editor, speaker and radio show host, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters.

The doctoral hooding ceremony will be at 1:30 p.m. at the Koger Center for the Arts. Marina Lomazov, UofSC music professor and founder and artistic director of the Southeastern Piano Festival, will be the speaker.

The university expects to award 1,893 degrees from the Columbia campus. Also receiving degrees at the December ceremony will be approximately 775 graduates of USC Aiken, USC Beaufort, USC Lancaster, USC Salkehatchie, USC Sumter, USC Union and USC Upstate.

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