Receiving honorary degrees on May 21 will be, from left, Harold Chandler, Nikky Finney and Susu Johnson. (Finney photo by Forrest Clonts. Johnson photo courtesy of the Johnson Collection)
– J. Harold Chandler, a 1971 Wofford College graduate and chairman, president and CEO of Spartanburg-based Milliken & Co., will be the featured speaker at the college’s 2017 Commencement Exercises. The program is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Sunday, May 21, on the lawn of Main Building.
During the event, some 380 graduates will receive their degrees, and honorary degrees will be awarded to Chandler, who retired in 2016 as chairman of Wofford’s Board of Trustees; South Carolina poet Nikky Finney; and Susan Phifer (Susu) Johnson, a life trustee at Converse College and who, along with her husband, is a long-time community philanthropist and Wofford supporter.
“Harold Chandler has made an impact at Wofford College across the full spectrum of the student experience, athletics accomplishments and strategic counsel,” Wofford President Nayef Samhat says. “As the ultimate Wofford servant-leader on our board of trustees and as its chair, his example is unsurpassed in recent history. He and his wife, Delores, have been longtime supporters, and we value their continued support and generosity.”
Chandler is chairman of the board of directors of Milliken & Co. and was named president and CEO in October 2016.
He served on the Wofford board from 1988 to 2000 and then again since 2004. He was vice chair from 2009 to 2011 and served as chair until his retirement from the board last year. The boardroom in the DuPre Administration Building was named for him at the time his term expired in June 2016.
A graduate of Belton-Honea Path High School in Belton, S.C., Chandler was an outstanding student-athlete at Wofford, leading the Terrier football team as quarterback for two seasons and to the NAIA National Championship game in 1970. He graduated summa cum laude in 1971 with a degree in economics
. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa while at Wofford.
Chandler earned his MBA from the University of South Carolina and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s advanced management program. He has served in major management positions or as chief executive officer with regional and national banking, insurance and benefits administration organizations as well as leading numerous corporate boards of directors.
He was selected as Wofford’s Young Alumnus of the Year in 1983 and has led the Terrier Club
and endowed athletics scholarship efforts for many years, helping to achieve more than $40 million in endowed athletics funds. He and his wife have generously supported numerous Wofford scholarship, renovation and building projects over more than 45 years of involvement with the college.
During his tenure on the board, Chandler oversaw significant reform of the college’s governance structure and served as an example and mentor to presidents emeriti Joab M. (Joe) Lesesne and Benjamin (Bernie) Dunlap, as well as overseeing the hiring and first three years of Samhat’s administration.
Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina and raised during the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Arts Movements. She began reading and writing poetry as a teenager growing up in the spectacle and human theater of the Deep South. At Talladega College she began to autodidactically explore the great intersections between art, history, politics and culture. These same arenas of exploration are ongoing today in her writing, teaching and spirited belief in one-on-one activism. She is the author of four books of poetry, “On Wings Made of Gauze,” “RICE,” “The World is Round” and “Head Off & Split,” which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011. She has written extensively for journals, magazines and other publications. For 21 years she taught creative writing at the University of Kentucky and now holds the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She travels extensively, never lecturing, always inviting and hoping for conversations that just might improve the human condition.
A life trustee at Converse College, Susu Johnson is a former member of Spartanburg City Council and has served on the boards of Brookgreen Gardens and Spoleto Festival USA. She is an active community advocate currently serving on the leadership board of Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM). Most recently, she spearheaded the establishment of Meeting Street Academy-Spartanburg, an innovative school that aims to empower “young people from under-resourced neighborhoods to become confident, productive and principled members of society through excellence in academics.” She is the first woman to chair the board of the United Way of the Piedmont and the first woman to run a campaign for the organization. Johnson and her husband, George Dean Johnson, and their family began the Johnson Collection, which offers an extensive survey of artistic activity in the American South from the late 18th century to the present day. Masterworks from its holdings are made available for critical exhibitions and academic research, in the hopes of advancing interest in the dynamic role that the art of the South plays in the larger context of American art and to contribute to the canon of art historical literature. Works from the Johnson Collection will be among the first to be exhibited in Wofford’s new Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts.