UNION — The USC Union Class of 2013 was honored not only as graduates of the university Saturday evening, but as the heirs of a legacy of academic freedom reaching back more than a thousand years to the founding of the first universities.
Saturday’s commencement exercises in the Truluck Activity Center was filled with family, friends, university staff, special guests, and other supporters who came to witness the members of the Class of 2013 receive their degrees. Of those who graduated Saturday evening:
• 36 graduated with associate in science degrees
• 39 graduated with associate in arts degrees
• Five graduated with bachelor in liberal studies degrees
• 10 graduated with bachelor in organizational leadership degrees
• 17 received two or more degrees
Interim Dean Dr. Stephen Lowe opened the ceremony by discussing the impact of USC Union on the community and those who have studied there.
“We are here this evening to recognize these students who have successfully completed their degree requirements in accordance with the programs of the University of South Carolina,” Lowe said. “Today’s graduates will join over 17,000 other men and women who have attended the Union campus since it was founded in 1965.
“Everyone here tonight recognizes that USC Union is a special place, even among the great and wonderful institutions that comprise the USC system,” he said. “We have made it possible for people who would otherwise have been unable to attend college to do so conveniently and affordably. More than that, we have given them access to a faculty of distinction and a truly caring staff. I am fortunate to be a part of it.”
Dr. Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina, also spoke about the opportunities provided by USC Union.
“Your campus is a vibrant hub for Union County,” Pastides said. “While you’ve been here some of you had the opportunity to engage with the community through USC Union’s sponsorship of political debates and also participate as the college hosted the county Arts Council’s Juried Art Show. You have a campus that is open to the community and an open campus means an open flow of new, diverse and exciting ideas.”
Pastides urged the graduates to take time to thank those who have helped them reach this point in their lives.
“It might be a parent who funded you, or a friend who supported you, a professor, a counselor or a coach,” Pastides said. “Tell them, ‘Thank you for what you helped me achieve. Thank you for helping me become an even better person, and thank you for making my future brighter.’”
Pastides also urged the graduates to make use of what they’ve learned at USC Union and to remember who they are.
“As you step out into a new world or being work on your baccalaureate degree, use the tools you’ve gained from your education at USC Union to engage in civil discourse, to participate in civil society, and to contribute positively to your community,” Pastides said. “You each have a lot to give.
“Your are joining 260,000 living USC alumni,” he added. “And as the newest alumni of USC Union, you are forever a part of the Bantam community and the Gamecock nation.”
The keynote speaker for Saturday’s commencement was Dr. Curtis Rogers, director of communication for the S.C. State Library and coordinator for the South Carolina Center for the Book. Rogers, who began his library career at the Union County Carnegie Library, attended USC Union in 1986.
He later transferred to USC’s Columbia campus where he received a bachelor of arts in geography in 1990, a master of Library and Information Science in 1991, and later a Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction in 2002. In addition to his other duties, Rogers currently serves on the governing board of the South Carolina Academy of Authors and the South Carolina Humanities Council’s advisory board of the South Carolina Book Festival.
Rogers urged the graduates to think critically about what they say in the future because of the power of their words to influence others.
“When someone begins a sentence with ‘I believe,’ it sets a certain tone for the rest of their thought process,” Rogers said. “And that tone can convey many emotions such as enthusiasm, admiration, reverence, and even glorification. From this point on, it is my hope that each and every one of you will think critically about what you have to say because what you believe in can greatly influence those around you in profound ways.”
By graduating and gaining their degrees, Rogers said the graduates have gained something they will always have. Furthermore, Rogers said they are now part of a very special community that’s more than a thousand years old.
“A college degree is something that no one can take away from you,” Rogers said. “The word ‘university’ is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means ‘community of teachers and scholars.’ You are part of a community of higher education dating back to the year 1088 when the first universities in Europe with an organized form or structure were developed such as the University of Bologna, and later the University of Paris in 1150, and then the University of Oxford in 1167.”
Rogers told the graduates that they are the beneficiaries of a concept of academic freedom that dates back to the founding of those first universities. He urged them to continue learning in the years ahead and to share the results of that learning with others.
“Going back to the University of Bologna, which adopted the charter called the Costitutio Habita around 1158, this academic charter guaranteed the right of a traveling scholar to unhindered passage in the interest of education,” Rogers said. “Here we are, almost 900 years later, and the concept of academic freedom is living strong and you are all recipients of the benefits of this concept.
“In your time at USC Union, your have experienced academic freedom,” he said. “Your instructors and professors have imparted to you their beliefs, their knowledge and their interpretation of a wide range of subject matter, all in the hope that you will take that knowledge and expand upon it.
“Consider this ceremony not an end, but a beginning,” he said. “A beginning for you to gain knowledge, interpret it, and believe passionately in your interpretations by sharing that knowledge with others.”
Rogers urged the graduates to take risks, but also to consider carefully the course they take in life.
“I want you to take risks every day, within reason, of course, and believe in yourselves, your abilities, learn from your mistakes, and know that you can do anything you set your mind to,” Rogers said. “Lastly, I want to leave you with a quote from Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, who flourished in China in the 6th century before the common era: ‘Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.’”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.