Presbyterian College holds 140th commencement for College of Arts and Sciences

Presbyterian College holds 140th commencement for College of Arts and Sciences

Presbyterian College presented the Class of 2023 with wisdom, encouragement, and congratulations at the 140th Commencement for the College of Arts and Science on May 13.

And more importantly, they received the degrees they worked so hard to earn and the right to call themselves PC alumni.

In his last commencement address at PC, president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg – who will become the new president of Ohio Wesleyan University in July – told graduates they are more than the sum of their majors, diplomas, or first jobs.

“You’ve developed skills that will help you build a career and lead a life of meaning and purpose,” he said. “Throughout your PC journey, you’ve learned to ask incisive questions. You’ve sharpened your ability to address problems you’ve seen and you’ve heard. And you felt what it means to serve others with grace, so that you enter the world an even more self-aware, collaborative, adaptable, and thoughtful version of yourself.”

President vandenBerg said the world needs those attributes as never before. Poverty, human rights, environmental degradation, and the erosion of empathy and constructive dialogue are just a few of the problems graduates face, he said.

But the Class of ’23 offers the world hope, vandenBerg added.

“My time at PC with our students, our faculty, and our staff has offered me a refreshing reminder of what’s right,” he said. “In this world, it is possible to rediscover the art of civil discourse. We can work together to build stronger and more resilient communities we can center ourselves and summon the will to solve tough problems.”

vandenBerg presented graduates with three final lessons he learned as PC’s president. The first, he said, is to take a stand.

“Don’t just sit on the sidelines, tearing down and criticizing the efforts of others,” he said. “Know what you value and do something about it.”

vandenBerg told graduates they must also bring unwavering grit, determination, and fierceness to what matters most to each of them.

“As I have learned so many times here, your challenges don’t define you,” he said. “You define you.”

Lastly, vandenBerg told the Class of ’23 to empathize and collaborate with people with different perspectives.

 “Climb out of your silos and echo chambers and find the courage to engage honestly with opposing viewpoints,” he said.

Outstanding Senior Kennedy Wright

PC’s Outstanding Senior Kennedy Wright ’23 told her classmates she is proud of their dedication and perseverance to earn their degrees, including a global pandemic.

Wright reminded them that the theme of their first-year orientation – “Be Bold” – should also be the theme for their future.

“As you leave this place and embark on the next chapter of your lives, I encourage you to be bold in everything you do,” she said. “Be bold in pursuing your dreams, in standing up for what you believe in, and in making a difference in the world.”

Wright said bold people do things differently.

“Being bold means taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone, and pushing yourself to do things that may seem daunting or even impossible,” she said. “But it also means having the courage to fail, to learn from your mistakes, and to keep moving forward.”

Wright left her classmates with an inspirational quotation from civil rights activist Pauli Murray:

“Surrender to none the fire of your soul.”

Likewise, PC Professor of the Year, Dr. Ben Bailey, told the Class of ’23 to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“Your post-PC life will be full of questions – some important, some trivial,” he said. “But you will face questions that you have no answers to. And you must become comfortable with the ‘I don’t know.'”

Bailey told graduates they will often feel like they are out of answers.

“I hate to tell you this, but the likelihood of suffering from bouts of imposter syndrome only increases with knowledge!” he said. “Your ability to embrace the discomfort and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow is a vital skill that will serve you well in all aspects of life.”

“Embracing the discomfort also means embracing fear – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of judgment. … The more we confront our fears and push past them, the less power they have over us.”

It is okay to fail, Bailey said. It is not a sign of weakness but a step toward growth.

“Progress is an illusion; everything is cyclical,” he said. “There will be peaks and valleys, highs and lows. Trying to avoid the lows by avoiding risk and discomfort never works though. The most ‘successful’ people in your life have failed countless times, but they didn’t let those failures define them. Instead, they used them as learning opportunities and continued to move forward.”

During the ceremony, PC provost Dr. Kerry Pannell recognized the valedictorians for the Class of 2023 – those students who graduated with perfect 4.0 grade point averages. They are:

  • Itzel Martinez Coria of Irmo, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude, Honors in Biology
  • Mallorie Aspen Jaeger of Newberry, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude
  • Liliana Irene Jaraczewski, of Greenville, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude, Honors in Chemistry
  • Madeline Danielle Richburg of Lugoff, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude

Pannell also recognized mathematics professor Dr. Brian Beasley, who is retiring after 35 years of service.

PC presented alumnus and college trustee William Brown Shearer Jr. ’64 with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recognition of his service to PC and his remarkable career as an attorney.

Shearer’s exemplary 45-year legal career included serving as attorney to many premiere corporate and celebrity clients – including CBS, the Walt Disney Co., the Los Angeles Angels, Bjorn Borg, and James Brown.

PC’s valedictorians Mallorie Jaeger, Itzel Coria, Lili Jaraczewski, and Madeline Richburg are congratulated by PC president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg and provost Dr. Kerry Pannell.