SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA—Wofford College’s Class of 2023 received words of wisdom from a Tony, Grammy and James Beard award winner, and they were all one person.
Alexander Smalls, a renowned opera singer, chef and author who attended Wofford in the early 1970s, delivered the keynote address during the college’s 169th Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 21, 2023.
The college awarded 384 Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees to 369 graduates. The college also conferred honorary degrees on three individuals: Patricia Gainey, Brenda Lee Pryce and Smalls.
Special teaching awards were presented to Dr. Kim Rostan, associate professor of English, who received the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Humanities and Social Sciences; and Dr. Aaron Garrett, associate professor and chair of the department of computer science, who received the Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science.
The college presented the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to Isaiah Franco (student recipient) and Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz (non-student recipient). The student recipient of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was Lilly Hatton. The non-student recipient was Laura Ringo.
Major award winners
The Class of 2023 included six Honor Graduates who were recognized for earning a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout their college careers. 2023 Honor Graduates are:
Logan Greer Bradley
Nathaniel Gerhard Faulstich
Lillian Ashton Hatton
Kennedy Elise Smith
Jack Irwin Stomberger
Lauren Gray Whitener
Six retiring faculty members were recognized during the ceremony:
Dr. G.R. Davis, McCalla Professor of Biology (29 years of service)
Sally Hitchmough, professor of English (27 years of service)
Dr. Dave Kusher, professor of biology (27 years of service)
Dr. Eun-Sun Lee, professor of music and director of string ensembles (19 years of service)
Dr. Rickey Madden, associate professor of business and coordinator of the business program (14 years of service)
Dr. Eddie Richardson, professor of accounting, business and finance (31 years of service).
The college’s board of trustees granted all professor emeritus status.
The college recognized five students who were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army on Friday, May 19. They are:
Brooke Cherith Bozarth
Chardonnay Yorel Durrah
Danika Troedson Muller
McKenzie Charmaine Norman
John Martin Perry Reed
Class of 1973
Members of Wofford College’s Class of 1973 celebrated their 50th reunion during Commencement Weekend. The class included the first two Black women to graduate from the college, Gwendolyn Prince-Lawrence and Janice Means.
Honorary Degree Recipients
Featured speaker: Alexander Smalls
Alexander Smalls is believed to be the only person to win James Beard, Grammy and Tony awards. He’s a Spartanburg native and a former Wofford student who lives in New York.
In 2019, Smalls, the author of three cookbooks, received a James Beard Award for his cookbook “Between Harlem and Heaven.” He’s the visionary co-owner of renowned restaurants The Cecil and Minton’s. Minton’s was the birthplace of BeBop in the 1930s, and Smalls’ supper club in the building has live music and Lowcountry cuisine inspired by his childhood. The Cecil, New York City’s first Afro-Asian-American restaurant, was named “Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire in 2014.
Smalls received the Creative Spirit Award from the Black alumni of Pratt Institute in 2019. Legendary actress Cicely Tyson presented the award. Over the past three decades, the chef and restaurateur has traveled the world studying the cooking techniques and foodways of the African diaspora. In 2021, Smalls opened the first contemporary modern African dining hall in Dubai. He’s also a world-renowned opera singer and the winner of both a Grammy Award and a Tony Award for the cast recording of “Porgy and Bess,” by George Gershwin, with the Houston Grand Opera. He’s been profiled in countless publications, including The New York Times and Food & Wine.
Patricia Gainey, the first woman to coach at Wofford, established the college’s first women’s athletics teams in the early 1980s. Gainey arrived at Wofford in 1979 after earning her master’s degree at Appalachian State University.
She started club basketball and volleyball teams for women at Wofford before starting varsity teams in the same sports to compete in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. Gainey left Wofford after five years and spent 32 years working in Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools, where she held positions as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, assistant principal, principal and instructional superintendent. She was named the district’s principal of the year in 2015.
Gainey, who is retired, lives in Kernersville, North Carolina. She volunteers with committees focused on youth, including service on the Crosby Scholars Board. She mentored principals at the North Carolina Leadership Academy, and she currently mentors teachers as an adjunct professor at Salem College.
Brenda Lee Pryce
Pryce is a lifelong resident of Spartanburg’s Southside community and a former state legislator. In 1995, she became the first Black woman from Spartanburg elected to the South Carolina Legislature. She served as House District 31’s representative for 10 years.
As a legislator, she secured funding for breast cancer education for disadvantaged women in the Upstate, introduced a resolution designating a stretch of South Church Street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., served on the legislature’s Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and managed a successful campaign for Congressman James E. Clyburn.
Pryce is a tireless advocate for sharing and celebrating Spartanburg’s Black history. She co-authored “South of Main,” a book that documents the history of Spartanburg’s Southside and the impact that urban renewal and its failed revitalization efforts had on the community. Pryce has received many awards and served on numerous boards and committees, including the Spartanburg African American Heritage and Culture Committee, which has led efforts for the Southside Cultural Monument that will be unveiled in the summer to celebrate Spartanburg’s Black history. She’s a former member of the college’s President’s Advisory Council.
Covington Award Recipient
Dr. Kim Rostan, associate professor of English, is the college’s 17th recipient of The Philip Covington Award. Rostan has an ability to make complex-yet-urgent topics compelling for students and she applies her expertise and leadership to multiple academic programs on campus, including African and African-American Studies, Gender Studies, Intercultural Studies and Middle Eastern and North African Studies. She’s a past recipient of the faculty and staff diversity and inclusion award.
This award is named after a beloved, long-time professor and academic dean. It carries with it a $15,000 award, allocated over a period of three years, designed specifically to provide further opportunities for professional development.
Dr. Aaron Garrett, Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science
Dr. Aaron Garrett, associate professor and chair of the department of computer science, offers an astonishing number of office hours for his students and is always willing to help with assignments. He is devoted to his students and to their success at Wofford and beyond. He organizes weekly board-game get-togethers for students and faculty outside of class to interact in a different setting while getting additional practice at problem solving, which is at the heart of computer science.
Garrett is the college’s 19th recipient of this award, whose recipient is chosen by a special secret committee, and receives a $50,000 award, allocated over a decade, designed to provide opportunities for professional development.
Student Sullivan Award Recipients
Isaiah Franco is a double major in Spanish and international affairs from Newton, Pennsylvania. Lilly Hatton is a biology major from Georgetown, Indiana. They have both led the Wofford community by example, and honor Wofford College and the Sullivans by accepting these awards.
Franco was active with Campus Union and diversity, equity and inclusion work on campus. He volunteered in the Spartanburg community through Spartanburg Housing’s after-school program at Camp Croft Courts and served as the site’s program manager during his senior year. One of his nominators for the Sullivan award describes him as having a “pure servant’s heart and a love for humankind while excelling in his academics.”
Hatton was a leader on the women’s basketball team and president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. One of her nominators said “Lilly is a friend to all in the Wofford community. She’s also brilliant in the classroom and an active member of Panhellenic. Lilly is a very well-rounded individual who represents Wofford wonderfully.”
Community Sullivan Award Recipients
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz has been an interfaith leader in Spartanburg and has worked with many initiatives that unite people across racial and religious differences for 20 years. He has worked with the Wofford community’s Hanukkah and Passover celebrations and has been a guest speaker in many classes. He has become widely known for greeting people with the words, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in peace.” His life and leadership have strongly reflected this deeply held value.
Laura Ringo has served as the executive director for PAL: Play. Advocate. Live Well. (formerly Partners for Active Living) for 16 years. The nonprofit focuses on improving health and wellness across Spartanburg County by creating an environment and culture that fosters physical activity and healthy eating through an equity lens. Under Ringo’s leadership, PAL launched the Southeast’s first bicycle-sharing program, and it’s driving an ambitious urban trails plan that will lead to a 50-plus mile network of trails that recently secured a $23.8 million federal grant.
Commencement weekend recordings
ROTC Commissioning Ceremony