The journey from student to proud alumnus and alumna came to its traditional end on the West Plaza on May 14 during Presbyterian College’s 139th Commencement for the College of Arts and Sciences.
In his address to the Class of 2022, PC president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg reminded graduates that they, and their alma mater, face challenges and difficulties in the days and years to come.
But, he added by paraphrasing the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the measure of the college is not where it stands in moments of convenience but where it stands at times of challenge and controversy.
“A college’s real value, it’s true worth, is not determined by its ability to avoid struggles, but by the honesty and courage and commitment with which it responds to those struggles,” vandenBerg said. “At PC, we meet our challenges head on. And we do so in a spirit of unity, and with an unwavering belief in our ability to persevere. And with the winds of our diverse creeds and faiths filling our sails.”
vandenBerg urged graduates to do the same.
“Remember that, just like PC, the true measure of your worth is not your ability to avoid mistakes or dodge hardships,” he said. “As I’ve learned so many times during my first year as PC’s president, the challenge doesn’t define you. Your response does. So, when you face challenges inevitably in your life, take them head on. Know what you stand for right now. Don’t wait until the storm arrives. Hard times are no time for an identity crisis.”
President vandenBerg also asked the Class of ’22 to collaborate and build unity to face challenges.
“At the end of the day, your legacy lies not in what you destroy, but in what you build,” he said. “You’ve been central figures at a transformative moment in your college’s history. You’ve helped bring about positive change here. You’ve got momentum. Now use it and go show the world how a Blue Hose responds to a challenge.”
PC’s Outstanding Senior Noah Burkett ’22 echoed vandenBerg’s sentiments by encouraging classmates to be agents of change. Looking back on the changes that have occurred on campus and in the world – including a global pandemic – Burkett said he had an “aha” moment.
“Change, regardless of connotation or mood or opinion, is inevitable. Period,” he said. “And from there, there are two paths to take: sit idly by and have to accept the change regardless of feeling, or take the figurative bull by the horns and be the ones to make changes.
“Try things. Make the world a better place one action at a time. Trying our best to make our fate our own. This is my challenge to us.”
But Burkett said that, even as change and challenges pull the Class of ’22 in myriad directions, alumni should also remember what brought them together.
“I do ask that one thing stays the same between all of us,” he said. “Our connection. In the last four years, I know that I can say that I have made the best friends of my life, and I think that many of us could say the same thing. These relationships are the reason that PC is PC.”
Professor of the Year Dr. Laura Crary – in her signature fashion and wearing a tiara – told the Class of ’22 to “follow the squirrel.”
Life does not always go as planned, Crary said. As a college student trying to find out what she wanted to do with her life, Crary said her mother encouraged her to take art classes at a local community college, which led to the discovery that she liked creating things.
She soon discovered a love of art history – her life’s path – that led her to study in Mexico, teach in the state of Washington, and eventually to a small town in rural South Carolina. At PC, Crary said she discovered welcoming and friendly colleagues and students she genuinely loves. She also found a place to raise her daughter, Molly, who was only two when they moved to Clinton.
Crary said life could unfold in unpredictable and marvelous ways if people allow it and follow their squirrels.
“No one else lives in your body but you,” she said. “No one else knows your thoughts unless you tell them. You may not even know your own capabilities and interests. I encourage you to remain open to the unexpected offerings of life. Do those things that frighten you.
“Follow your squirrels.”
PC provost and vice president for academic affairs Dr. Kerry Pannell announced the valedictorians of the Class of 2022:
- Alexis Nicole Crider, summa cum laude – Orangeburg
- Paris Langley Rizzo, summa cum laude, honors in biology – Summerville
- Gabryel Dawn Santos, summa cum laude – Camden
- Jaden Michelle Kar-Yun Yam, summa cum laude – honors in psychology and biology
Pannell also recognized two members of the PC faculty who are resigning at the end of the academic year – professor of Spanish Dr. Clinia Saffi and associate professor of economics and business administration Dr. Cindy Lucking.
PC also conferred two honorary degrees at commencement. The Rev. Craig N. Goodrich, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Naples, Fla., was presented an honorary doctor of divinity.
The late Morgan Rae Megna, a member of the Class of ’22 who passed last November after a valiant fight against leukemia, received a posthumous honorary bachelor’s degree in English.
PC remembers Megna as an active member of Alpha Delta Pi and president of the English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta.
“Her warmth and wit abounded and she shared both generously with others,” vandenBerg said. “She was loved. The entire PC family continues to mourn the tremendous loss of Morgan and we honor her memory. For today’s ceremony, PC has reserved a seat for her. Morgan’s empty chair acknowledges that although she is gone, we will not forget her.”