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The liberal arts in practice

Lemons filter life through the lessons they learned at Wofford.

It’s been 25 years since they graduated from Wofford, but Shawna Cannon Lemon ’90 and Brian Lemon ’90 still see the fruits of their liberal arts education every day—in their careers, marriage, children and community involvement. The experiential learning, flexibility, open-mindedness and breadth of knowledge that they consider hallmarks of a liberal arts education have served them well.

“We’ve been able to be successful professionally and in our marriage because we’ve been able to adapt to whatever the world puts in front of us, whether a hurdle or an opportunity,” says Brian, co-founder and partner of BILTgroup, a boutique international law and tax law firm, and co-CEO of Southern Tank Holding Co. & Affiliates. “A lot filters through our liberal arts background.”

Shawna, a shareholder, former management committee member and the chair of the pro bono committee for Myers Bigel Sibley & Sajovec in Raleigh, N.C., agrees. It’s a busy life, one that many Wofford graduates balancing work, family and community face—and according to the Lemons, face with greater resources thanks to their Wofford degrees. 

Brian saw Shawna for the first time walking across campus during Wofford Scholars Day. Seeing her helped him make the decision to choose Wofford. When he moved onto campus the next year, he saw her again. “Infatuation started the first time my wife smiled at me,” says Brian. “The wattage that comes off of her smile was like WOW. As I got to know her, I realized that WOW continued beyond the smile.”

They started dating during their first year and never broke up. After Wofford, Brian enrolled at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Shawna began the USC School of Medicine’s Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences/pharmacology. “While an excellent program, I chose USC’s School of Medicine (in Columbia) because Brian moved to Columbia to attend USC’s School of Law,” says Shawna. “I knew that we were going to be together for the rest of our lives.”

They dated for eight years before they married. Brian went on to earn his LLM in Taxation from the New York University School of Law. Shawna worked for a pharmaceutical company in New York before getting her law degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s now a registered patent attorney working in the area of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and biotechnology. 

“My work centers around protecting someone’s innovation — start ups, small to mid-size pharmaceutical companies, universities, even larger corporations,” says Shawna. “I’m motivated to do the best I can at whatever I do. We all have talents and gifts and the way to show our appreciation for those is to be the best that we can be using them.”

Brian spent the first part of his career in various roles as a business and tax consultant for global public accounting firms and multinational, public companies culminating as a Tax partner providing tax solutions to Fortune 100 companies. It required lots of travel so he switched gears for his family. Now the partner in a law firm he co-founded in Raleigh, Brian also has joined the family business, based in South Carolina, as co-CEO with his father.

“We’re constantly working to balance family and work because we’re pulled in so many different directions,” says Brian. “We began learning to adapt early on. There's a give and take, sometime a lot more give and a lot less take on both sides.”

According to Shawna, finding time for each other is still a priority.

“Just last week after we got everyone squared away at home we went out at 10 p.m. for appetizers, just us,” says Shawna. “We didn’t have time for a typical date night, but we did make time to sit down together, enjoy each other’s company and just talk.”

Date nights for the Lemons at Wofford involved Fuddruckers and stacking quarters on video games to compete over Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga. 

“Even though we were obviously a couple, we were an interracial couple on a small campus in the late 1980s,” says Brian. “I was a KA. We always enjoyed spending time with each other, but we didn’t do the Row. Shawna didn’t go to Old South with me, but we were together more than we were apart. We always found a way to spend time with each other, and that hasn’t changed.”

They parent together, volunteer together (whether working as the national chairs-elect of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Parents Council or serving a meal to the Cardinal Gibbons high school football team), invest together (as part of an angel investing group in the Research Triangle Park) and even attend professional meetings together (both are active in the North Carolina Bar Association).

Just as they loved traveling with each other during Interim at Wofford, they still enjoy traveling, but now with their family in tow.

"We're believers in experiential learning, which definitely goes back to Interim and our time at Wofford," says Brian. "You can broaden that concept to everything in life."