Claflin graduates get advice from top Volvo official at university's first-ever fall commencement

Dec 17, 2018

Claflin graduates were encouraged to develop a global perspective and to always follow their moral compass during the university's first-ever fall commencement ceremony held Friday.

Claflin President Henry N. Tisdale addressed those attending the ceremony at the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex, detailing the significance of the graduation.fall commencement story katrina fjording

“I’m extremely pleased to welcome you to our 2018 Fall Commencement Program. On the sesquicentennial founding of Claflin University, we thought it would be perfect to hold the first fall commencement convocation in the history of the university,” Tisdale said, referring to the school’s 150th year since opening its doors in 1869.


The 101 graduates consisted of students from several majors, including the first-ever graduates of the university’s nursing program.

The top majors among the class were nursing with 21 graduates, criminal justice with 11 and sociology with six.

There were two international graduates, Minsoo Kim, a music major from Korea, and Swirkriti Shrestha, a biochemistry major from Nepal.

“We’re proud,” Tisdale said.

“We’re proud as an institution. We’re proud of our legacy, our heritage as the first historically black institution of higher education in South Carolina. We are equally proud of our legacy of an unbending and profound commitment to academic excellence,” he said.

Kayla Williams, a marketing major, graduated as valedictorian of the class. Williams compiled a GPA of 3.98.

Williams, who received the Presidential Academic Excellence award, addressed her fellow graduate. The Savannah, Georgia native was also the valedictorian of her graduating class from Sol C. Johnson High School.

Williams, of Savannah, Georgia, thanked her loved ones, along with the loved ones of the other graduates, for their support, contributions and advice that guided them to graduating from Claflin.

“I used my pain to apply pressure. Took the pressure and got productive. Turned the tears into triumphs, and used my lessons to make blessings, which is how we are all here,” she said.

“If there is anything I will challenge everyone to do, it is to continue to use ideology in your obstacles that you face in life,” Williams said.

Katrina Fjording, the commencement speaker, received an honorary degree from the university.

“Many great things have been achieved in the life of increased globality, and it poses enormous opportunities for cultural change, scientifical admirations and sharing our responsibilities,” Fjording, head of Volvo Car University Americas, told the 101 members of the graduating class.

“It’s not every day that a Viking gets to do a commencement speech in the U.S.,” Fjording said, joking.

“I can easily relate to Claflin as a liberal arts university in having lived in and worked in most of the world continents. My global perspective allows me to appreciate how valuable Claflin’s aid for you to be independent visionary leaders,” she said.

“2018 - this is a very successful year for you. But, it also marks the 50th anniversary of the year that many deem the worst one in modern history,” Fjording said, referring to the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy that took place in 1968.

“We need you to help us prove that we can be better than this,” she told the graduates.

Fjording said a global experience can have a lasting impact of one’s perspective.


“You learn firsthand that everything is relative. It’s not all black and white, and that there are many sides of things. You come to the insight that only in balance can we co-exist with each other and with nature in a sustaining and peaceful way,” the Volvo vice president of purchasing and manufacturing said.

“As leaders of tomorrow, I encourage you to exercise the power of tolerance. We live in a time of extremes, sensationalists and disrespect, and it is easy to lose perspective on what is normal, and it’s difficult to follow, and it’s difficult to lead,” Fjording said.

She also advised the graduates to never lose their morals and to be advocates and leaders.

“When things are morally volatile, you need to follow your moral compass,” Fjording said. “We need to stay ahead and be proactive, rather than reactive. This is where you can have a profound impact. Advocate, role model, lead."

She added, “Avoid the bystander effect. The excuse that my contribution is so small, what difference can I make."

Fjording also shared some insight to help the graduates in their search for jobs. Among the points she made were:

  • “It’s not unusual that graduates interview much better than experienced recruits.”
  • “You only get one chance to make a great first impression. ... Whether it’s a phone interview or in person, always come prepared.”
  • “Self-insight. Know your strengths and build on those. Know your room for improvement, and give examples of what you do to work on that.”
  • “Be prepared to answer why you want to work for a company.”
  • “Read up on the company’s key facts so that you can relate.”
  • “Don’t overload you CVs. Sometimes I see graduates with longer CVs than senior vice presidents.”
  • “Reference your previous jobs and have someone testify to your work ethics.”
  • “Be kind to those less fortunate and speak to everyone in the company. You never know who puts a good word in with the person who’s going to hire you.”
  • “Communication, open and transparent. It builds trust.”
  • “Your phone is not your life.”
  • “You will be most successful if you choose something that you’re most interested in and something with a good purpose. Let your interest guide you, but let the passion fuel you."

Fjording praised the graduates for their accomplishment and encouraged them to have a global impact.

“I hope that you will be the builders and the protectors. Be the voices of justice and reason," she told them. "This is a celebration of not only your graduation but of you as courageous leaders of tomorrow."


Article compliments of the Times and Democrat. (

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