Claflin University awarded bachelor's and masters degrees to the largest class in the institution's history during its 144th Commencement Convocation on Saturday, May 10, 2014.
Some 423 students walked across the stage of the Seventh-day Adventist Worship and Convention Center in Orangeburg at the 11 a.m. ceremony, cheered on by thousands of family and friends gathered for the occasion.
Guest speaker Dr. Charles Ogletree, the Harvard University Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, urged the graduates to remember those who came before them and helped lay the foundation of the road they have traveled, including program participants and civil rights icons Rep. Andrew Young and Rev. Joseph Lowery, both of whom had grandchildren in the graduating class and delivered the invocation and benediction, respectively, at the ceremony.
"We would not be here today were it not for the work that they did," said Ogletree, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from Claflin. "We have to make sure that we honor people like them."
Keep reaching for your goals, Ogletree told the Class of 2014. "You have to be patient about your idea of success," he added.
Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale urged members of the graduating class to be themselves, know their purpose and dare to be great.
"Each class adds to the legacy of the University," he said. "Take God with you wherever you go. And remember, Claflin University is your home. Come home often."
Top honor graduate Keziah Knights shared memories from her four years at Claflin, and thanked her family, friends and God for helping her achieve academic success. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA and received a bachelor's degree in accounting on Saturday.
"It's not often that you come across a class as close as ours," Knights shared. "These are moments we will treasure for years and years to come."
She challenged her classmates to not let opportunities pass by them.
"I challenge each and every one of you to make the world know your name, in a good way," Knights said.
Receiving the Presidential Award for Service was Darius Stanton II, the 2013-2014 Mr. Claflin, who received a bachelor's degree in environmental science. Also honored for their work this past year was Dr. Robert Vanderburg, associate professor of education, who received the James E. Hunter III Faculty Excellence Award, and Dr. Omar Bagasra, professor of biology and director of the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology, who was awarded the Attorney William H. and Annette B. Johnson Endowed Annual Faculty Award.
Recognized for their commissioning as officers in the United States Armed Services were Army 2nd Lt. Brittany Amaker, a mass communications graduate, and Air Force 2nd Lt. Sheila Sharpe, a business administration graduate.
In addition, members of the Golden Class of 1964 were awarded Golden Diplomas at Saturday's ceremony.
Saturday's Commencement Convocation was not the first time the Class of 2014 has gathered before family and friends to be honored. A baccalaureate service was held Friday evening in the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Physical Education Center. There, class members were presented with a Bible and heard a special sermon delivered by Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Palmer shared with those gathered the Old Testament biblical account of King Solomon, who, instead of riches or political gain, asked God to give him the gift of discernment.
"We always have important choices to make," he said. "Each decision will be like a building block that will determine the strength and quality of the life you have and the life you will lead.
"There are opportunities for those who walk close to God."