2014 Commencement Week
May 5-10, 2014

Commencement speaker Dr. Charles Ogletree addresses the graduates during the 2014 Commencement Convocation on Saturday, May 10, at the Seventh-day Adventist Worship and Convention Center in Orangeburg.

Claflin University Awards Degrees to Largest Class
in History at Saturday's Commencement Convocation

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."

Civil Rights Icons Inspire at Claflin Commencement

Claflin University’s 144th Commencement Convocation could not have been more historic with the largest class in University history, participation on the program by civil rights icons former Ambassador Andrew Young and Reverend Joseph Lowery, and prominent legal theorist Dr. Charles Ogletree serving as the speaker.
The significance of the day certainly was not lost on University President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale.
“This commencement will forever be etched into the memory of the graduates,” Tisdale said.
Rev. Lowery, affectionately known as the “dean of civil rights,” said the ceremony did not mark the end of a journey, but rather just the close of one phase in life.
“We fall down, but we get up,” he said. “There are going to be days when you may stumble, but I want you to think back to these days,” full of success and possibility.
Rev. Lowery, who delivered the benediction, had a special reason for attending the ceremony. A granddaughter, Maya Osborne, a sociology major from Smyrna, Ga., was among the graduates. Young shared the dais to give the invocation and had a grandson among the graduates, Kemet Alston, a mass communications major from Leakwood, Kan.
“It was a powerful moment,” Tisdale said. “These men represent a very important part of American history. Rev. Lowery and Rep. Young were on the front lines of civil rights and social justice in this country. And Dr. Ogletree is continuing to carry the torch.”
Lowery, a native of Huntsville, Ala., is credited with helping to launch a drive to end discrimination in Mobile, Ala. In 1957, he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph David Abernathy and others to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and became the group’s chairman in 1968. The 92-year-old is nicknamed the “dean of the civil rights movement” for his work as a minister and speaking out about civil rights, participating in protests and demonstrations, and helping to revitalize the SCLC to focus on such issues as police brutality and human rights in the African-American community.
Throughout his life, Lowery has been an unwavering champion of nonviolent resistance. He was a key figure in the desegregation of the United States and, after integration was achieved, focused his attention on other significant issues, such as black voter registration, affirmative action, AIDS education and workers’ rights.
He was selected by President Barack Obama to deliver the benediction at Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Lowery has received such accolades for his work as Ebony magazine's Black Achievement Award. Clark Atlanta University’s Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights was established in his honor.
The 82-year-old Young, a New Orleans native and ordained minister, worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the SCLC. As the group’s executive director, he helped draw up the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was with King in Memphis, Tenn., the day he was assassinated in April 1968.
“If it were not for the Lord on our side, where would we be?” Young contemplated during his invocation at the ceremony. “Work your miracles through the members of this class,” he prayed.
Young became the first African-American to represent Georgia in Congress since Reconstruction when he was elected in 1972, was the first African-American ambassador to the United Nations and served as Atlanta’s mayor from 1982 to 1990. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981. Morehouse College named the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership in his honor, and Young has taught at Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
Ogletree is a Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and founding and executive director of Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. The Institute is named in honor of the visionary lawyer who spearheaded the litigation in Brown v. Board of Education that focuses on a variety of issues relating to race and justice.
Citing the presence of Young and Lowery on the dais, Ogletree said, “We would not be here today were it not for the work that they did. We have to learn from our elders who have gone before us. They are the symbols of what you have to do. We have to make sure that we honor people like them.”
Ogletree is a prominent legal theorist who has earned an international reputation for taking a hard look at complex issues of law and working to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution for everyone equally under the law. He has penned a number of books on civil rights issues, and has served as faculty director, associate dean and vice dean of the Harvard Law School Clinical Program.
Success in life, he said, is made possible with the right support and foundation along the way.
“You don’t get there without help, without people lifting you up,” Ogletree said. “The Class of 2014 is forever grateful that someone saw in them success and ability.

Keziah Knights

Accounting Major
Earns 4.0,
Top Honors
for Claflin University’s
Class of 2014

Keziah Knights has worked hard to make her family – and herself – proud. That hard work has paid off, as she has been named the top honor graduate in Claflin University’s Class of 2014.
“My dad always told me growing up to make sure people know your name, but for good reasons,” the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College student said. “But I’m kind of quiet. I don’t like people knowing I got the highest grade in my class. I don’t like the recognition – I just like doing the work and being done.
“It’s not like I was in a competition, but I always wanted to make sure that my dad was happy. I did it for my family.”
Knights, daughter of Michelle Williams and Neraun Knights, is part of the largest graduating class in Claflin University’s history. Some 423 students will receive bachelor’s or graduate degrees at the 2014 Commencement Convocation at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 10, 2014, at the Seventh-day Adventist Worship and Convention Center in Orangeburg.
The speaker for this year’s ceremony is Dr. Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and founding and executive director of Harvard’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Joining the program participants this year are two prominent civil rights leaders, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rep. Andrew Young, also a pastor, who will deliver the invocation and benediction. Lowery and Young have relatives in the graduating class. The Golden Class of 1964 will celebrate its 50th reunion, as well.
A complete list of commencement-related activities and events is available online at
While admission to the event is by ticket only, the ceremony will be streamed live online at A complete list of commencement-related activities and events is also available online at
Knights is leaving Claflin with a 4.0 GPA, but said she will take a break before beginning the next chapter of her academic career. She is currently looking for a job that is fulfilling and rewarding.
“I want to work for a little while and then go to graduate school,” the accounting major from Snellville, Ga., said. “I kind of feel bad about it, because all of my peers have jobs, but I don’t want to rush into a job. I can’t do that to myself. I know I’m going to have to work somewhere just to get to where I want to be, but I still don’t want to just apply for any job just because I meet the requirements. I want to make sure that I make the right decision for me.”
Eventually, Knights said she would like to work as a certified public accountant and own her own spa. She may even wind up teaching one day, a career that Knights said she has contemplated since she was young.
“I have a lot of interests in different things,” she said of the unlikely pairing of professions. “I’ve always believed you should do what makes you happy. It’s your life to live … and all of the money in the world is not going to make you happy.”
While at Claflin, Knights immersed herself in a variety of activities. In addition to serving as a math tutor, she has performed with the University’s Gospel Choir and PULSE Dance Company, been a Panther Doll, and joined the Delta Mu Delta business honor society and NABA, the National Association of Black Accountants.
“I get bored easily, so I knew I had to get myself involved in stuff instead of sitting around with nothing to do,” she said. “And I couldn’t just get involved in one thing and do just that one thing.”
Knights said in many ways, Claflin University reminded her of her alma mater, Decatur High School in Georgia.
“I didn’t really care about the size of the college I went to, because I knew I had to go to college and I was going to do what I had to do to get through it,” she said. “The faculty and staff and everyone at Claflin actually do care. They help you. It’s crazy that you can walk in and they know who you are and call you by your first name. It’s more friendly, and you’re more willing to go places and willing to talk to people and show up to class.”

Scenes from Claflin University's 2014 Commencement Week. 
Congratulations graduates! 

Members of the Golden Class of 1964


Claflin University Celebrates Golden Class of ’64


Nearly two dozen members of the Golden Class of 1964 were in Orangeburg this weekend to celebrate their 50-year Claflin University reunion. Those special guests of the University were honored at the President’s Luncheon on Friday, May 9, in Ministers’ Hall.
“Take a trip down memory lane and think about where it all began,” Doris Bradley said in welcoming her classmates to the luncheon. “For me, and I’m sure for many of you, it feels like yesterday.
“This weekend is a time for us to celebrate and fellowship among classmates and friends. This is our time to catch up and reminisce about the good old days … and to see the progress of our alma mater.”
Sharing stories of professors, fellow class members, campus life and the social unrest that was ever-present during their time as Claflin students in the early 1960s were Mattie Murray Mallory, Rufus Knowlin and Modestine Martin Ivery.
Mallory, a retired educator, said she did some research prior to the reunion and found that of the approximately 115 students that entered Claflin in the spring of 1960, 100 of them graduated in a pair of ceremonies that took place in May and July 1964. She also provided copies of their class photograph from 1961 to those members in attendance.
One of her most vivid memories was the visit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made to the University in the early 1960s.
“During that time, we were involved in many demonstrations here in Orangeburg” fighting segregation, Mallory said. “Some of my classmates went to jail.”
One of those arrested was Ivery, who said while she was in jail, “I wrote everything we did from end to end on a roll of toilet tissue. And guess what? Somebody’s using my story – they stole it!”
Mallory said she knew she couldn’t get arrested because it might have put her mother’s teaching career at risk.
“But she did not deter me from participating in other things,” Mallory said, so every day, she would carry a picket sign on Russell Street to discourage people who lived in rural areas from shopping in the stores.
Mallory recalled a demonstration on campus that lasted a week, during which most of the students refused to go to classes or visit the dining hall.
“There might have been one student in a classroom, or two students in a classroom – and they were relatives of the president,” Mallory said. “We had certain demands. We wanted changes here at Claflin.”
Mallory talked about a bandstand area where the Grace Thomas Kennedy Building is today where students found out what was going on around campus.
“We didn’t Tweet. We didn’t have cell phones,” she said. “But word got around about what was going on.”
Ivery mentioned a clothesline some of the girls had up behind one of the buildings.
“Now they have everything – everything,” she said of the modern conveniences available to students today.
The retired educator said she genuinely enjoyed her time at Claflin, “and I really enjoyed coming to a small college,” she concluded.
Just as it was for Mallory and Ivery, coming to Claflin was a family tradition for many members of the Golden Class in attendance. Knowlin said his mother went to high school and college at Claflin, and his family belonged to The United Methodist Church.
“Therefore, my choice of colleges was limited,” he joked.
Knowlin said he was all smiles when asked to speak about his University memories.
“My days at Claflin were all positive,” he said, adding that he met his wife of 48 years while at the institution. He and Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale joined Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. at the same time.
“You really got to know your classmates personally, which led to lifelong friendships,” Knowlin said.
The biology major credited Claflin with giving him a firm foundation for his career as a laboratory technician. He retired in 2000 after 29 years of service as the Blood Bank and Transfusion Service supervisor at SUNY Health Science in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I have a great admiration for this University,” he said. “The University is like a magnet … and a true Claflinite will find their way back to this alma mater.”
Ivery told those gathered that she had once told Tisdale when they shared a math class at Claflin that he would one day become president of the University.
“He was so smart,” she exclaimed. “I was prophesying and I didn’t even know it!”
Tisdale urged his college peers – he graduated from Claflin a year later, in 1965 – to enjoy their return to campus.
Following a toast to the class and each member receiving a copy of the anthology “Leaves of Gold,” the Class of 1964 took a tour of the Claflin campus.
“Take your time and let it all soak in,” Tisdale said. “As you go around the campus, note how the campus has changed. But we have not given up the values of this institution – the values in terms of access and success, the values in terms of educating the whole student, both academically and spiritually.
“And we continue with our goal to be recognized as one of the premier undergraduate teaching and research universities in the world that prepares effective and visionary leaders with global perspectives.”
Mallory, a former Claflin Board of Trustees member, said she is thankful for Claflin.
 “Claflin provided me, along with all of my classmates, an opportunity to go on and make strides in our society,” she said. “We’ve done well, coming out of the ’60s, and I’m proud to be a member of the alumni at Claflin University.”

Ashley Harrison

Eight Years and
Three Schools Later,
Graduating Senior
Completes Claflin Degree

Ashley Harrison’s walk across the stage of the Seventh-day Adventist Worship and Convention Center on May 10 will mark the culmination of an eight-year academic journey that began – and a part of which will end – at Claflin University.
“I started off at Claflin in 2006 and transferred to the University of South Carolina, but it didn’t work out for me,” said Harrison, who also took some courses at Trident Technical College in North Charleston. “I just remembered the love and family environment at Claflin, and it made me want to come back.”
Harrison – an only child raised by her single mother, Carla Harrison, on Edisto Island, South Carolina – will become the first person in her family to graduate from college when the Center for Professional and Continuing Studies student receives a bachelor’s degree in organizational management on Saturday.
The 25-year-old certified nursing assistant has managed to juggle her life in North Charleston and full-time job as a patient care technician at the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital with classes at Claflin’s Orangeburg campus and its satellite location at Fort Jackson in Columbia.
“It’s been challenging, because some nights I’ve stayed in a hotel just to go to school,” Harrison said of returning to Claflin in August 2012. “It’s been hard, but my professors have worked with me, and the staff at Claflin has been great.”
Claflin University’s Center for Professional and Continuing Studies program provides working adults and non-traditional students 22 years of age or older with the educational tools to be competitive in today’s economy and job market, to advance in the workplace and to turn long-held dreams into reality. Students in the program can work toward a bachelor’s degree in organizational management or criminal justice.
Beginning in the fall, both Professional and Continuing Studies degree programs – as well as a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Claflin – will be offered online, giving working adults yet another convenient way to continue their education. For more information, visit
This fall, Harrison will return to Trident Tech to pursue a registered nursing degree. Her career goal is to be a nurse practitioner in the U.S. Air Force.
Looking forward to graduation and what lies ahead, Harrison said, “I am feeling accomplished, determined – I’m feeling a breath of fresh air.”
“Working where I do in the hospital has helped me see what I wanted to do in life,” she continued. “So instead of becoming tired and overwhelmed from work and school, I would return to work with motivation. It gave me a vision of what I wanted in my future.”
In the audience Saturday at Claflin University’s 2014 Commencement Convocation will be Harrison’s mom. “She’s very proud,” Harrison said.
“For everything in life, there is a season,” she said. “With faith, dedication and determination, you can conquer the seasons of your life and reach your goals.”

Claflin Graduating Senior Closer to Giving Back
to Hispanic Community through Medicine

Chloé Gonzalez left Brooklyn, N.Y., four years ago to begin working toward her dream of becoming a doctor.
While the road hasn’t always been easy, Gonzalez will complete the first leg of that journey May 10, when she graduates from Claflin University with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.
When Gonzalez walks across the stage that Saturday morning at the Seventh-day Adventist Worship and Convention Center in Orangeburg, she will become just the second person in her family to receive a college degree.
The first to receive a college education was an aunt in New York, who went back to school so that her two young sons would have no excuse when they were encouraged to continue their education, Gonzalez said.
“The last time my parents were here was when they dropped me off four years ago, and now they’re coming back to see me graduate,” the 21-year-old said. “I am very excited.”
Gonzalez always knew she wanted to go to college, but that life goal caused some concern for her father, who didn’t want her to be weighed down by debt from pursing a degree.
“My dad graduated from high school and my mom got her GED, and money has always been an issue for us,” she said of growing up in her lower-income minority family. “When I was starting to apply to schools, my dad told me that unless I got a scholarship, I would not be able to go to college. I told him, ‘I’m going to college no matter what. … College is an investment. I know where I want to go and I know what I’ve got to do to get there, so I’m going to go.’”
Family friend and Claflin University alumna Dr. Michelle McGill offered to pay for Gonzalez’s application fee if she applied to Claflin.
“I had never heard of Claflin,” Gonzalez said. “I applied, and was accepted to the (Alice Carson Tisdale) Honors College. That was a full ride. So my parents were like, ‘You’re going to Claflin.’”
Leaving her parents – Jeanette Arizmendi and Manuel Gonzalez – and the rest of her close-knit Puerto Rican family behind in Brooklyn was hard, but Gonzalez knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to receive a free education.
“It’s been difficult, but it has been a great learning experience,” she said. “And I love it.”
Originally a biology major when she entered, Gonzalez switched to biochemistry after discovering a love of chemistry.
“Biochemistry was the best of both worlds,” she said. “It’s a struggle, every single day, but I love it. Anything worth having is something worth fighting for.”
Gonzalez passes along her love of science through her participation in the American Chemical Society. Last year, she was vice president of the Claflin chapter. This year, she served as the group’s president.
“I’ve done peer tutoring in the sciences, and we’ve done community service at Felton Laboratory School to promote science to children,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of people like science, but they’re kind of scared because they find it intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. Science can be fun, and that’s our whole mission, to promote science to everybody.”
In the fall, Gonzalez will attend Drexel University in Philadelphia, Penn., to join the school’s medical post-baccalaureate program.
Gonzalez said while she was accepted to a graduate program to receive a master’s degree in public health, she’s following her dream of going to medical school and one day become a pediatric oncologist.
“I’m one step closer to medical school,” she said. “Through the program, I’ll get MCAT prep and take graduate-level courses in sciences. It’s going to give me that little edge I need.
“I’m getting one step closer to where I want to be.”
Gonzalez said she’s always wanted to be a pediatrician, but it was after an internship shadowing a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center that she decided to focus on that particular field.
“Children deserve the best of everything, and I want to be able to give them what they deserve,” she said. During her internship, “I met the most amazing children. They are far more mature than people my age. They’ve been through so much, and they appreciate life so much more. I feel like we take life for granted.
“It’s the fight to keep them going, the fight to keep them alive. I just want to be a part of that support that they need.”
She also hopes to one day become a role model and advocate for minorities – particularly Hispanics – entering the medical profession.
“I also want to do Doctors Without Borders for a year,” she said. “I’m all about community service, especially given where I come from, and knowing how hard it is for minorities to actually make it and knowing the health disparities that occur in the minority population. My goal is to help those minority children.”
Gonzalez’s drive and decision to attend college has made an impact on her siblings – she has an older brother who was unable to complete college after the birth of his daughter, as well as three younger brothers and a younger sister.
“My sister, she’s following in my footsteps. She is a freshman at the Culinary Institute of America,” Gonzalez said. “One of my younger brothers says, ‘I want to go to college. I want to be just like you.’
“I tell them, ‘You can do whatever you want to do. As long as you want it, go for it. Make no excuses.’”
Gonzalez has worked hard while at Claflin University, and said she is only now really enjoying her success. She will graduate on May 10 with honors, and is also a member of Alpha Kappa Mu National Honor Society.
“I love my experience here. I feel like I’ve gained so much,” she said. “Throughout my entire time here, it’s been mainly work, work, work, but now that I’m a senior, I can sit back and see that I’ve accomplished so much.
“It feels good to realize all that I’ve done, and all that I’m hoping to do. But I have a lot more I’ve got to do. I’m not going to stop until I’m the first doctor in the family.”