College grads walk across stages and into new chapters of their lives
A sense of possibility and hope mixed with the warm Lowcountry air Saturday as students walked across stages and into new chapters of their lives.
The College of Charleston, The Citadel and Charleston Southern University awarded diplomas to more than 2,000 students in separate ceremonies.
At The Citadel graduation in McAlister Field House, families and friends gathered to watch 449 uniformed cadets receive hard-earned diplomas during a commencement filled with tradition, formality and dignitaries. The military college's graduation speaker was U.S. Rep. John Spratt Jr., chairman of the House Budget Committee and the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Spratt encouraged graduates to see this day as the beginning of their education rather than its end. He challenged them to be inquisitive, work hard, give back to their communities and remember what's important in life - hope, love, compassion, courage, empathy and human connection.
"Think clearly and care deeply," he said. "I believe you and your generation can have a future worthy of your dreams."
Among those receiving a diploma was Napoleon Dunn, a Georgia native who's the first in his family to earn a college diploma. His parents served in the military for more than 20 years, and Dunn plans to continue in their footsteps by serving in the Army. He initially came to The Citadel on a full-ride football scholarship but gave that up later to focus on his grades and the college's military training. Dunn's choice led him to develop closer friendships with classmates, and his overall experience at The Citadel helped him mature and learn the value of responsibility and relationships.
"The Citadel built my confidence a lot, and I'm ready to go out into the Army and lead," he said. "It's going to be hard leaving friends and a structured environment, but I think I'm ready. This is a necessary step."
A little later Saturday morning at the North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston Southern University held graduation exercises for 313 undergraduate and graduate students. Tom Hood, the chief executive officer of First Federal, delivered the commencement address, and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey issued a proclamation that July 15 would be Jairy and Sissy Hunter day in recognition of their 25 years of service to the university.
The College of Charleston's Cistern Yard hosted graduation ceremonies in the morning and afternoon, and by the latter, parents and guests were urged to notify ushers or public safety officers if the heat was too much.
Commencement speaker Charlotte Beers-Beadleston, a businesswoman who achieved national success in the advertising world and who recently moved to Charleston, told graduates not to worry if their first job isn't their ideal one.
"Maybe it's all right to choose grit over glamour," she said. "Future success hinges on finding the work that's right for you. It starts by taking a look at who you really are. ... Leadership in any forum comes from being authentic, and authentic can only come from knowing your own self."
Both she and former automobile executive George Spaulding received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Spaulding has been active at the college and in the community since he retired here in 1981.
Senior Class President Skylar Stetten told graduates not to get discouraged by the lousy job market. In an earlier interview, she noted that few of her friends have found work so far.
"The current state of the economy will not determine if we are successful," she told graduates. "We will determine if we are successful."
Stetten's address helped build a family tradition. Her older sister, Chesley Stetten Correia, spoke at the college's 2002 commencement as its senior class president. "I just remember being so inspired by her speech and wanted to do the same thing," Skylar Stetten said. "I really wanted to make my dad proud."
While the college's Class of 2009 might face challenges finding jobs, it already has excelled at giving back, donating more than $14,000 to the college for a class scholarship.
Speaking before a backdrop of Randolph Hall, both Stetten and Student Government Association President Seaton Brown reminisced about the four years that transformed them, as soap bubbles and beach balls began to float above the stage.
"Life isn't short," Stetten said. "It just goes by really fast."
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