SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Dr. Katy Close, a 1983 Wofford College graduate, board certified internist and human rights advocate, delivered the address at the college’s 165th Commencement Exercises today (Sunday, May 19, 2019) on the lawn of the college’s historic Main Building.
During the event, the college awarded 381 Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees to 359 graduates. The college also conferred honorary degrees on four individuals: Dr. Katherine Anne “Katy” Close, Alice Ross Ballard, Marsha Harrison Gibbs and Joe Earl Taylor.
Special teaching awards were presented to Dr. Alan Chalmers, professor of English, who received the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Jameica B. Hill, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, was presented with the Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science.
The college presented the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to graduating senior William F. Randall, a biology and Spanish major from Greenville, S.C., and R. Michael James, former chairman of the Wofford College Board of Trustees.
The student recipient of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was senior Victoria Nwankudu, an international affairs and Spanish major from Florence, S.C. The non-student recipient was Wanda Cheeks Holmes, community activist and grassroots leader.
William F. Randall of Greenville, S.C., was recognized as the Honor Graduate, earning a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout his college career.
Dr. Charles Kay, professor of philosophy, retired from the college after 33 years of service. He was granted emeritus status.
Biographies of major award winners are below.
During Commencement exercises, the college also recognized students who were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army on Saturday, May 18, and who will be serving our country after graduation. They are:
Members of the Class of 1969 participated in the weekend’s activities. They attended a class reunion and processed with the Class of 2019 during the Baccalaureate Service on Saturday and Commencement Exercises on Sunday.
BIOGRAPHIES OF HONORARY DEGREE AND AWARD RECIPIENTS:
Dr. Katherine Anne “Katy” Close — Honorary degree recipient, Commencement speaker
Dr. Katy Close, a 1983 graduate of Wofford College, is a board-certified physician who practices at Americares Free Clinic of Stamford in Connecticut, where she is also a member of the Board of the Americares Foundation. Close has served as a clinical associate professor of internal medicine at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and has taken dozens of students, residents and specialists to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti for in-depth study and research. She also serves as an internist at Smith Medical Center in Pawleys Island and Georgetown, S.C.
Close has spent much of her medical career providing services to those with the most need, including serving numerous AIDS patients at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.; being assistant medical director of Hospice in Charlotte and interim director of Hospice of Georgetown County as well as medical director of Smith Medical Center, a free facility she helped establish in Georgetown County. In 2011 she served on the board of Physicians for Human Rights and traveled to Libya to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Muammar Khaddaffi, and in 2014 she was recruited by Americares to start an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia.
She earned her medical degree in 1988 from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, received a master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a diploma in tropical medicine from the Royal College of Physicians.
Close, a native of Fort Mill, S.C., has served as a trustee for the Springs and Close Foundations since 1982. She was named Wofford’s Young Alumna of the Year in 1994 and served on the college’s Board of Trustees for eight years. She and her family have maintained close ties to Wofford and have generously supported numerous projects and programs, including to the construction of the Roger Milliken Science Center.
View the commencement speech online.
Alice Ross Ballard — Honorary degree recipient
Alice Ballard is a native of Florence, S.C. She earned both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in design from the University of Michigan.
Ballard is an acclaimed ceramicist based in Greenville, S.C., and has held teaching positions at Francis Marion University and Coastal Carolina University. For three decades, Ballard has been associated with the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, N.C., as an instructor and ambassador. Additional teaching assignments have included the Odyssey School in Asheville, N.C., and the Arrowmont School of Crafts at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C. She is also the recipient of two South Carolina Arts Commission individual fellowships.
She has been a ceramic instructor on and off since 1967 and has her work in several galleries, including the Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, N.C., and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., where her white earthenware terra sigillata piece entitled “White Onion VII” has been added to the permanent collection. Her work is also in the permanent collections of the Mint Museum; Resen Ceramic Colony, Resen, Republic of Macedonia; Tennessee State Art Collection, Nashville; South Carolina State Art Collection, Columbia.
Marsha Harrison Gibbs — Honorary degree recipient
Marsha Gibbs is a native of Spartanburg County. She and her husband, Jimmy I. Gibbs, have been business and philanthropic partners for many years. The business and charitable landscape of the greater Spartanburg community has been forever changed, thanks to the generosity of Marsha and Jimmy Gibbs.
Their company, Gibbs International, has risen to become a major international force in the textile community. While still a driver in that industry, the Gibbses have also significantly diversified into real estate development and energy generation on an international scale.
Education and healthcare have been the two largest areas to benefit from the generosity of the Gibbses over the years, significantly the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, where the Gibbs Cancer Center bears their name at two locations. Mrs. Gibbs serves on the Board of Directors for Spartanburg Regional Foundation, Tri Chair Committee for Hospice Home and most recently on the Board for 50 Upstate. She and her husband have supported Wofford College with numerous projects, scholarships and multiple facilities including Gibbs Stadium and the Marsha Gibbs Tri Delta Sorority House; Marsha H. Gibbs Fieldhouse, Chapel and scholarships at Converse College, where Mrs. Gibbs serves as a trustee; Spartanburg Methodist College; the Cancer Association of Spartanburg and Cherokee Counties and dozens of other organizations and agencies. Mrs. Gibbs was instrumental in bringing the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program for children to our area. She was a founding director for Carolina Alliance Bank from 2006 through 2019. She has frequently been recognized as a difference-maker in local and regional philanthropy, most recently as a “Woman of Distinction” by the local affiliate of the Girl Scouts.
Joe Earl Taylor — Honorary degree recipient
Joe Taylor is a native of Columbia, S.C. While a student at Wofford in 1976, he began working with his father to produce pre-cut log buildings that became Southland Log Homes based in Irmo, S.C. Under Taylor’s leadership, Southland became the largest producer of pre-cut log homes in North America. It operated in 27 states and nine foreign countries and employed approximately 300 individuals. Taylor sold 75 percent of the company in 1999 and the remainder of his interest in 2005.
In 2006, then-Governor Mark Sanford appointed Taylor as secretary of commerce for the state of South Carolina. In that role, he oversaw the department charged with attracting employers to the state, and he did so in the thick of the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Serving from 2006 through 2011, Taylor helped lead a number of successful efforts on behalf of the state.
For example, the department announced nine projects that promised 1,000 or more jobs each; he helped to develop a nationally-recognized high school dropout prevention program called Jobs for America’s Graduates – South Carolina; and he was a leader in attracting the Boeing Corporation to build an assembly plant for the company’s 787 Dreamliner passenger jet that promised 3,800 jobs over time.
After leaving state government in 2011, Taylor has focused attention on private equity business and real estate development, and he served on the board of the State Infrastructure Bank through early 2019. Taylor also serves on the board of trustees of Wofford College, with a term starting in 2007 that will end in the spring of 2019. During his tenure on the Board, Taylor was chairman of the Board’s finance committee from 2010 through 2015, and also served on the athletic, development and student life committees. Taylor has supported numerous scholarships and projects, notably the athletics office and training complex bearing his name at the corner of Evins and Cumming Streets. He helped start a bank, Carolina National, and has been a board member of a long list of organizations across the Midlands of South Carolina and around the state, including the Columbia Museum of Art, the Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts of America and the Central Carolina Community Foundation.
William F. Randall — Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award / Honor Graduate
A biology and Spanish major from Greenville, S.C., Will Randall in passionate about the intersection of policy and global health. He has served as an elected student representative to Wofford’s Campus Union Assembly and as a Wofford Ambassador. He founded Tied & True bow ties, an organization that benefits those in poverty in Guatemala.
Victoria Nwankudu — Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, student
An international affairs and Spanish major from Florence, S.C., Victoria Nwankudu was Wofford’s 2017-18 Presidential International Scholar, studying abroad in South Africa, Peru and Morocco. She will return to Morocco after graduation as a Critical Language Scholar studying at the Arab American Language Institute.
R. Michael James — Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, non-student
Mike James, a 1974 Wofford graduate, is a founding partner of WEDGE Capital Management in Charlotte, N.C. He has served on the Wofford College Investment Advisory Board and has chaired the Presidential Search Committee and the college’s Board of Trustees. Eleven years ago, he and his wife, Katie, founded the R. Michael James Student Managed Investment Fund, an organization that provides students at Wofford with real-life investment experience.
Wanda Cheeks Holmes — Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, non-student
Wanda Holmes, director of the Northwest Center for the City of Spartanburg Parks and Recreation Department, has been a major player in the Northside Initiative and a great friend and partner to Wofford College. She is the founder and executive director of Southside Unity in the Community, a grassroots organizer and a volunteer with Spartanburg School District Seven schools.
Dr. Alan Chalmers — Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dr. Alan Chalmers, who recently served as chairman of the Department of English, holds a B.A. in English literature from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California.
The Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences is named in honor of Philip Stanhope Sheffield Covington, a beloved academic dean of Wofford College who served from 1953 to 1969. A graduate of Emory University, he joined the Wofford faculty in 1947 after earning a master’s degree at Duke University and teaching in public schools in Charleston, S.C. He was dean of students from 1950 to 1953 and served as acting president in 1957-58. In 1970 ill health forced him to give up his administrative duties, but he remained active as a professor of English until his retirement from the college in 1976. Wofford honored him with a Doctor of Literature degree in 1959 and with the title of dean emeritus. Covington was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Blue Key National Honor Society, Sigma Chi and Sigma Delta Psi.
The Covington Award winner, selected by the president and academic dean of the college, receives $5,000 per year for three years; one recipient will be named each year. The money may be used at the recipient’s discretion for travel, study or other professional development. This marks the 13th year that the award has been presented.
Dr. Jameica B. Hill — Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science
A 1988 Wofford graduate, Dr. Jameica Hill not only teaches and chairs the Department of Chemistry, she has served as the faculty athletics representative for the past 13 years. She holds a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Clemson University.
The Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science, funded by a $1 million endowment, provides a $50,000 prize – an annual award of $5,000 for up to 10 years – for use in pursuing professional development. The recipient must remain on the Wofford faculty to continue receiving the annual disbursement. This was the 15th annual awarding of the honor.
The award recognizes outstanding performance in the teaching of science. Full-time faculty in all science disciplines – biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, physics and psychology – are eligible. The recipient is selected by a three-person, off-campus committee composed of business and professional leaders in science from a list of nominees developed and approved by the college provost.
The late Roger Milliken, chairman and CEO of Milliken & Co., based in Spartanburg, S.C., was the longest-serving member of the board of trustees of Wofford and was the first person to have been named trustee emeritus. He died Dec. 30, 2010.
Science is a part of every student’s program at Wofford, and about 30 percent of the degrees awarded are to students majoring in one of the sciences. Wofford’s science programs and professors have been recognized nationally and internationally for innovation and excellence. The college has a well-respected pre-medical program, and many of Wofford’s graduates enter health care fields. Over 1,200 of the college’s more than 12,000 living alumni are involved in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and other health care fields. Professors and students are involved in research both at Wofford and other institutions and have made national and international presentations.
Dr. Charles Kay — Professor Emeritus
Dr. Charlie Kay, professor of philosophy, has served the Wofford community for 33 years. He holds an A.B. from Princeton University and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.
Watch the Commencement.