An educator's legacy
Daughter of pioneering Carolina administrator earns doctorate and fulfills lifelong dream
By Kathryn McPhail, email@example.com, 803-777-8841
Wendy Harriford Platt — a veteran teacher, a mother and the daughter of a Carolina icon — will walk across the commencement stage to accept her doctorate in education with no regrets. Well, maybe just one regret — that her father will not be there to celebrate with her. Platt’s father died one month shy of seeing his daughter fulfill a dream he had for his children.
“He wanted all three of us to graduate from the University of South Carolina,” says Platt, who joins her brothers as a Carolina graduate later this month.
Willie Lloyd Harriford Jr. was more than a fan of Carolina. His work is woven into the fabric of the university’s history. He served as the university’s first African-American administrator and was a prominent figure in Columbia’s civil rights movement. In 1971, he helped to create the African American Studies program and later served as assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Platt’s mother was an educator as well.
“My father taught me to never quit,” Platt says. “He would say, ‘No is only a no if you accept it.’ ”
Platt took those words to heart, especially in her pursuit of higher education and lifelong learning.
“I actually dropped out of college during my undergraduate years to get married and start a family. My father always said I would go back. And, he was right.”
After having children and divorcing, she went back to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in education from Columbia College. Now in her 15th year as an English teacher, Platt has taught at the high-school and middle-school levels in Lexington, Richland and Newberry counties.
I chose to attend Carolina because I was impressed with the doctoral program’s emphasis on diversity in education. My College of Education faculty were committed to culturally relevant teaching practices which I felt would help my students achieve.
Wendy Harriford Platt
“I grew up on the Carolina campus. I remember, as a child, playing on the Horseshoe with my brother as my dad worked in his office at the Russell House. George Rogers was one of his students, and he would make George play with us sometimes,” Platt says with a laugh. “Our family obviously valued education, and we believe everyone is entitled to a good education.”
But as a teacher, Platt says she was disappointed to find many students did not receive the best educational experience they deserved.
“I saw that many of our students — especially the black students — were not excelling, despite their intelligence. I knew I needed to find material they were interested in learning so I could help them open the door and see themselves as successful readers,” Platt says.
She wanted to research ways to increase achievement among marginalized students and knew earning her doctorate would allow her to conduct research while improving her own teaching skills.
“I chose to attend Carolina because I was impressed with the doctoral program’s emphasis on diversity in education,” says Platt. “My College of Education faculty were committed to culturally relevant teaching practices which I felt would help my students achieve.”
Platt says she would often talk to her father about her coursework and research findings.
“He would tell me that I was proving theories that he and other educational leaders were only able to discuss — and believe to be true — decades ago. He knew that all students could learn to love reading if taught in culturally appropriate ways. And my research in the classroom proved that. I saw my students improve their reading levels quickly when I exposed them to literature that better represented them and their interests.”
Not long after starting the doctoral program, Platt got very sick and had to have a thyroidectomy. She considered dropping out of the program, but stayed after some fatherly advice.
“He said that oftentimes a ‘pause’ becomes a ‘stop’ and encouraged me to continue no matter what. Because the Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction program is 100 percent online, I was able to continue working, take courses on my own time and heal. For that, I am grateful.”
Platt says she knows that adding “doctor” to her name would have made her father immensely proud and to honor him, she requested that her full name, Dr. Wendy Harriford Platt, be announced at commencement on Dec. 17.
“I can still hear him asking me, ‘Wendy, are you doing your homework?’ He was devoted to education. And though we miss him so much and I would have cherished him attending commencement, I know his spirit will be there with me. After all, he is part of Carolina forever and Carolina was part of him. Now we will share that bond.”
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