Graduates told to seek out joy

Shatareia Stokes looks for her mother, Constance Stokes, who was about to graduate with a doctorate in education from South Carolina State Friday in Orangeburg.

Orangeburg — Author Terry McMillan's message to South Carolina State University graduates was to let joy, not fame and fortune, be their yardstick.

"Success should not be based on how much money you have," said McMillan, author of "Waiting to Exhale" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

Nearly 500 students graduated Friday from S.C. State, South Carolina's only public historically black university. Family members cheered and blew horns from the stands at the school's Oliver C. Dawson stadium.

McMillan also stressed patience during these tough economic times to students and parents who thought a college degree was a ticket to success.

"You're really about to join a long list of African-Americans, including President Barack Obama, who are doing us proud," McMillan said. "You have finished something you started. It's a big deal."

Abdalla Straker, 30, from Trinidad and Tobago, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in business economics and will begin work in July with Bank of America Merrill Lynch as an investment-banking analyst.

In addition to meeting his wife at S.C. State, Straker said his education has prepared him for corporate America. "It's seeing the culmination of four years of hard work," the honor student said. "I've really grown a lot."

Sherwood Smith, 23, of Georgetown, said S.C. State taught him "every day you have to work hard and give everything you have."

The mechanical engineering technology major will next pursue a master's in business administration from Walden University.

Belinda Hiers, 22, from New York, will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall to pursue a career in social work.

"It's been a challenge," she said. During her four years in Orangeburg, she lost her grandparents. "I know they're here smiling down on me."

Reach Jill Coley at 937-5719 or jcoley@postandcourier.com.