More than 300 students earned degrees Saturday, May 9, during Presbyterian College’s 132rd commencement ceremonies.
The service included music by the PC Brass Ensemble, led by P. Neil Duncan, music adjunct professor; the Highland Cathedral, led by Ulrich Roever and Michael Korb; and the PC Pipes and Drums, led by Gary Oscar Hipp, PC pipe master. The National Anthem was led by M. Marie McCully `15 and Tianna M. Smith `15.
The invocation was given by The Rev. Rachel Parsons-Wells `02, director of Religious Life and Service at PC. Guests and graduates received a welcome from Dr. Donald Robert Raber, provost. Introductions and reflections were given by PC President Dr. Claude C. Lilly, who encouraged the graduates to honor the founder of PC by giving back to their alma mater, and to seize the opportunities that will come along in life.
“You and I stand on the shoulders of individuals, like William Plumer Jacobs, who have gone before, and we stand on the shoulders of the faculty and staff who support this institution every day. You and I have a responsibility to support PC so that future generations will stand on the shoulders of what we have done.”
“Paul focused on this concept when he said in 1st Corinthians, Chapter Three: `According to the grace of God given to me, like a master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.´ Please strive to build on the foundation you have laid here using the gold, silver, and precious stones of your service to mankind and your core values.”
Dr. Lilly continued, “Graduates, you have unlimited opportunity. I challenge you to go forth and seize this opportunity. May God bless you during your journey of life.”
The conferring of the degrees was performed by Dr. Lilly, Dr. Raber, Chairman of the PC Board of Trustees George Patrick Phillips `71, and Dean of the PC School of Pharmacy Dr. Laverne Clifton Fuhrman, Jr.
In addition to the conferring of degrees, several other recognitions and honors were given out during the ceremony. Two retiring faculty members were recognized for their service to the College: Samuel Lide Howell has served as professor of economics and business administration, and Dr. John Clinton Inman has served as the Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology. Additional faculty were recognized for receiving tenure and/or being promoted.
The commencement address was given by Paul Blanton Rice, Outstanding Senior for the Class of 2015 and Dr. John Justin Brent, PC professor of English and chair of the department and Professor of the Year.
Mr. Rice is an English major, with minors in both history and Chinese studies, and a GPA of 3.99. In addition to his studies, during his time at PC he ran Cross Country, volunteered in the PC Writing Center, served as President of the English honor society Sigma Kappa Alpha, served as editor-in-chief for the student newspaper, worked in PC’s organic garden, and was a Bluefish and Stephen Minister. Additionally, Mr. Rice played in the PC Wind Ensemble, in the Blue Hose Thunder Pep Band, and the Jazz Band; and did sterling work in the Admissions Office. He was also involved with Summer Fellows and Honors research.
Mr. Rice said, “As we stand here decked out in caps and gowns, it’s time to celebrate our own graduation, but also honor those who have made this place a home for us in the meantime. Most of the rest of today will be about us, the graduating class, but it took hundreds of people to prop us up, feed us, whop us upside the head, and always be standing in the wings if we needed them. Though we are the ones crossing the stage, they are the ones who command our respect and honor year after year. PC is essentially a place where people share their lives, forging a community based on that spirit of giving.”
Mr. Rice continued, “I remember one student in my sophomore year who was terribly homesick and really wanted a home-cooked meal. She happened to have her mother’s handed-down chicken and dumplings recipe on hand, and managed to get it to the head chef of GDH. Sure enough, the next week, she and the entire campus were scarfing down those chicken and dumplings as fast as they could: just one example of the lengths people will go to here to share and give to each other.”
“It is the people of PC who make the difference here. Professors share their lives here. I’ll bet that every one of us here has some professor, coach, or faculty member whom we look up to, who has made an enormous impact in our lives. They are the pillars who keep endless office hours, who answer back-to-back emails at 3 a.m., or who accept tear-stained essays at the last minute, who temper their sternness with love. That’s the kind of college I want to go to; that’s the kind of college I’m glad to have attended, where compassion comes first and kindness is a bedrock.”
Paul is a son of Charles and Caren Rice of Hartwell, Ga.
Dr. Brent earned his undergraduate degree from Furman University and his doctorate from State University of New York, Stony Brook. He teaches both general education courses and upper-level courses for the English Department, focusing primarily on early English literature and linguistics. Recently, he developed a media studies minor and now teaches the introductory course for the minor.
Much of his energy at Presbyterian College has focused on the connections between a liberal arts curriculum and future career paths. He has piloted courses that promote service learning and writing and research skills.
Dr. Brent discussed how the one constant in life is change and referred to the first century Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso’s Metamorphoses as a literary work with “change” as its theme.
Dr. Brent said, “Although some would call Metamorphoses a tale collection, it is really one tale: a giant meandering slushy of colorful characters shifting and bleeding into different narrative possibilities. NOTHING lasts forever in Ovid’s world, everything is constantly becoming something else.”
Dr. Brent continued, “And so on this day that for so many of you seems like an ending, I send you a message from the poet who understood that every ending is actually a beginning, that dead ends to the discerning eye are opportunities to get out and walk, and that tears of sadness in the blink of an eye can metamorphose into tears of joy. The message is this: Don’t be afraid of change – place your finger on the pulse of it. Take your shoes off and walk around in it, to better feel the changing terrain.”
Dr. Brent and his wife reside in Clinton.
Robert Emmett Staton, Sr. `68 received the honorary doctorate, doctor of public service. Mr. Staton was a member of PC’s Board of Trustees from 1997-2006, serving on and chairing several committees. He also served as chair of the College’s Promise and Challenge capital campaign. In January 2007, he joined PC’s administration as executive vice president for external relations.
Mr. Staton is a 1968 graduate of PC and a 1971 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. He has served as partner in the law firm of Quinn, Brown, Staton, and Boyle; as chairman of Carolina National Bank; and as chairman, president and CEO of Colonial Life Insurance. After a 17-year career, Mr. Staton retired from Colonial in 2001. He then went on to serve as president of the United Way of South Carolina, and as interim vice president for development at the University of South Carolina.
Mr. Staton and his wife reside in Lexington, S.C.
After the graduates received their degrees they were immediately inducted into the PC Alumni Association. The initiation was performed by President of the PC Alumni Association Louis John Jeselnik, Jr. `73.
The commencement ceremony ended with a prayer for the graduates by The Rev. Dr. Joe W.B. Brooks, pastor emeritus of First Presbyterian Church in Clinton; the alma mater led by Hannah D. Fulenwider `15 and Joshua R. Harrington `15; and a benediction by Rev. Parsons-Wells.
The ceremony was followed by a reception to honor the graduates, hosted by Dr. and Mrs. Lilly and Mr. Phillips.
On a special note, the graduates of 2015 are already giving back to their alma mater. During a senior luncheon on Friday, the Class of 2015 presented Dr. Lilly and PC with a check for $9,554 towards the College’s Annual Fund.