NBC “Today” show national correspondent Craig Melvin, a 2001 graduate of Wofford College, urged graduating seniors during Sunday’s 161st Commencement Exercises to “find your thing and do it, and figure out how to keep it going.”
Melvin recounted how as a 16-year-old high school student, home from school “snacking and watching ‘The Flintstones’ – don’t judge,” he saw a commercial that WIS television station in his hometown of Columbia, S.C., needed high school reporters “to tell stories of particular interest to teenagers.”
“I was their man,” said Melvin, telling how he hopped into his daddy’s car and rushed over the audition. It’s how he got his start in television.
“Six years later, and a few weeks after leaving Wofford with my government degree in hand, I found myself working at the same station and I was stoked. For me, the newsroom was a professional paradise – the constant hustle and bustle and a new and exciting story to be told every day….”
He told how he was making below the poverty line and lived for six months in his parents’ home, then rented his grandmother’s home from them, paying “when I could,” which meant “rarely ever.
“But here’s the thing: it didn’t matter. I’d found my ‘thing’ … storytelling, reporting,” Melvin said.
“Finding your place in life is a hard thing to do, and I was blessed in finding mine early,” he continued. “There are likely many of you in the audience who have not yet found that ‘thing,’ and that’s ok. In fact, perhaps it’s better. Life’s journey is much more than just that – a journey – if the whole thing isn’t scripted.
“As you start the journey, find your thing and do your thing,” Melvin reiterated to the 368 graduating seniors.
“Success will come. You’re terriers. This magical place has equipped you with the tools to succeed. Making a living will come easy. Making a life? That’s a bit trickier,” he added, recounting to the crowd of graduates, faculty, parents, other relatives and friends how his brother Ryan and his wife lost their infant daughter to a rare form of cancer.
“On the journey, when the unthinkable happens,” Melvin said, “when the cancer comes or that dream job goes away. When all seems lost, figure out how to keep going, look around and hold on to not what you have lost but all that you still have left.”
During the Commencement Exercises, in addition to degrees being conferred to the graduates, honorary degrees were presented to South Carolina banker Hugh C. Lane Jr. and Henry C. Giles Jr., president of Spartanburg Community College and a 1968 Wofford graduate.
The Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science was presented to Dr. John H. Moeller, associate professor of biology, and the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences went to Dr. Laura H. Barbas Rhoden, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures.
The college also presented the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to graduating senior Jon Nicholas Gault, a chemistry major with a minor in government from Union, S.C., and Scott Jackson Neely, pastoral executive at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg and a 2000 summa cum laude graduate of Wofford.
The student recipient of the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was seniorCatherine Elizabeth Miller, an English and philosophy major from Zirconia, N.C. The non-student recipient was Dr. Colleen Perry Keith, current president of Spartanburg Methodist College, who will become president of Pfeiffer University in July.
Three honor graduates – all with 4.0 GPAs and all members of Phi Beta Kappa – were:
Chad William Sauvola, Greer, S.C., majoring in art history and biology
Justin William Whitaker, Alpharetta, Ga., majoring in physics and mathematics with a minor in computer science and an emphasis in computational science
Alissa Marie Williams, Kentwood, Mich., majoring in biology and computer science with a minor in mathematics and an emphasis in computational science
Members of the Class of 1965 participated in the weekend’s activities, including a class reunion and participating in the processional and other events surrounding the Commencement Exercises.
Melvin, in addition to being a national correspondent for “TODAY,” occasionally fills in as a host for Lester Holt on “Weekend TODAY.” Both programs are on NBC.
Most recently, Melvin was on the ground reporting from Dallas, Texas, on the Ebola outbreak and in Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. Previously, he anchored “MSNBC Live” on Saturdays and Sundays. Prior to joining MSNBC in July 2011, Melvin was a weekend anchor for WRC, NBC’s owned-and-operated station in Washington, D.C. Previously, Melvin earned acclaim as an evening news anchor for WIS in Columbia, S.C.
Melvin is widely recognized for his reporting on topical issues that matter most. He has covered a wide range of events, including the Republican and Democratic National Conventions; election night coverage for TVOne in partnership with NBC News; the Asiana Airlines 214 crash in July 2013; the George Zimmerman trial; the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla.; the Sandy Hook school shooting; and a series on the future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Melvin received two Emmy Awards for his reporting at WIS and also was named “Best Anchor” by the South Carolina Broadcaster’s Association.
His journalism career began during high school when he served as an “Our Generation” reporter for WIS. In that role, he became one of the youngest recipients of an Associated Press award for a report on innovative teaching. He received a B.A. degree in government from Wofford College.
BIOGRAPHIES OF HONORARY DEGREE AND AWARD RECIPIENTS
Hugh C. Lane Jr.
Lane is a fourth-generation banker and native of Charleston, S.C., where he is chairman of the board of The Bank of South Carolina. Lane was graduated from the Choate School in Wallingford, Conn. and in 1970 earned a B.A. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy with the rank of ensign. After receiving an honorable discharge, he began his banking career in 1972 at C & S National Bank of Georgia in Atlanta. In 1973 he accepted a position with Chemical Bank, New York, and worked in the bond, leasing and international departments. In 1974 he returned to South Carolina to accept a position with C & S Bank of South Carolina as city executive of the Sumter office. He served on the C & S Bank of South Carolina board of directors for 14 years.
Henry C. Giles Jr.
Giles became the sixth president of Spartanburg Community College in 2012. He has spent 45 years at the college serving in a variety of capacities, including chief financial officer, program manager to the vice president for development, vice president for academic affairs, vice president for business affairs and executive vice president for business affairs. Giles received a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from Wofford in 1968. He received his masters of teaching in mathematics in 1970 from Converse College in Spartanburg and did graduate work in higher education administration at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and in management at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award
Jon Nicholas Gault
Gault is a chemistry major with a minor in government from Union, S.C. He is a Dean’s List student who has served in Campus Union student government organization, the Orientation Staff and the Reformed United Fellowship. In the summer of 2014 he participated in an internship in the office of U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. Gault is a graduate of Union County High School and is the son of William and Melodi Gault.
Scott Jackson Neely
A native of Spartanburg, Neely is a 2000 summa cum laude graduate of Wofford and received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan in that year as well. He also holds the M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School. He is the pastoral executive at Spartanburg’s First Presbyterian Church, where he manages the business operations of the church and guides the congregation’s local and international service projects, missions and benevolence partnerships. As a student at Harvard Divinity School, Neely led community art installations in sacred spaces to address issues of race, multiculturalism and religious diversity. Since returning to Spartanburg in 2006, he has advocated for stronger cooperation between faith groups, organizing interreligious community events and monthly reading groups and teaching congregations at Wofford and at the University of South Carolina Upstate. In November 2013 through Neely’s facilitation, First Presbyterian Church partnered with Spoken Word Spartanburg to host community discussions on race and racism the first Monday evening of every month. Participants have described these discussions as some of the most healing engagements across racial divisions that they have ever experienced.
Mary Mildred Sullivan Award
Catherine Elizabeth Miller
Miller is an English and philosophy major from Zirconia, N.C. She is a Dean’s List student who has served on the Wofford Honor Council and as a Wofford Ambassador. She is member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, the Orientation Staff and the Reformed United Fellowship. She studied abroad in Spain, Morocco and France. She attended Veritas Christian Academy and is the daughter of Jim and Margaret Miller.
Dr. Colleen Perry Keith
For the past six years Keith has been president of Spartanburg Methodist College. As of July 1, she will move to Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C., a sister United Methodist institution, where she will be president. Before taking her position at SMC, she was executive director of development at Ohio University in Athens; prior to that, she was executive vice president at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. A native of northern New York, Keith has nearly 30 years of experience in higher education in capacities such as student services roles, program development, teaching, fund raising and administration. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the State University of New York at Binghamton, a master of education from the University of Pittsburgh in educational counseling and a Ph.D. in higher education administration and student affairs form The Ohio State University. Keith serves on boards of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, which she chairs; the Mary Black Foundation; the Greer Education Foundation; the Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg; the Spartanburg Academic Movement; Spartanburg Regional Hospital’s Hospice Home; and Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg County. On a state level, she chairs the President’s Council for South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Inc. and is the secretary for the South Carolina Higher Education Tuition Grants Commission. She also serves on the advisory board for South Carolina Women in Higher Education. On the national stage, she is past president of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church and continues on its board.
Wofford College is one of 61 colleges and universities, most of them in the South, authorized to present the Algernon Sydney Sullivan and Mary Mildred Sullivan Awards. The recipients, a graduating senior and a non-student of each gender, are named and the awards presented annually during spring Commencement ceremonies.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan, born in Indiana in 1826, rose to success in New York City as a respected lawyer and a man who “reached out both hands in constant helpfulness” to others. The award bearing his name was established in 1925 by a Sullivan Memorial Committee and the New York Southern Society, which Sullivan had served as its first president. The award seeks to perpetuate the excellence of character and humanitarian service of Sullivan by recognizing and honoring such qualities in others.
The Mary Mildred Sullivan Award was created in 1940 by the New York chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor those who demonstrate the “spirit of helpfulness and an awareness of the beauty and value of the intangible elements of life.”
Teaching Award Winners
Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science
Dr. John F. Moeller
Moeller received his B.A. in animal physiology from the University of California, San Diego, and his Ph.D. in biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His graduate work focused on the sensory physiology, anatomy and behavior of deep-water crustaceans of the Pacific Ocean. At Wofford, he teaches biology concepts and methods, cell and development, and human physiology. Before coming to Wofford, Moeller taught for six years at St. Andrews Presbyterian College and served as chair of the department for five years. While at St. Andrews, his research shifted to communication and behavior in various species of insects, especially wasps. His current research focuses on the stridulation of the wingless wasps, commonly known as velvet ants.
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 12th 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 is the only 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. More than 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.
Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dr. Laura H. Barbas Rhoden
Barbas Rhoden earned her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Georgia and her master of arts degree and Ph.D. from Tulane University. She has coordinated the Spanish section of the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures for eight years, and she teaches a broad range of courses. She has developed numerous collaborative courses that deal with community-based learning and service learning. She is the founder and collaborator of the Hispanic Alliance in Spartanburg and is vice president of the Hub City Food Co-op. She also has led the service teaching and working project in Arcadia Elementary School and serves as a volunteer interpreter in Spanish for various organizations in Spartanburg. On campus, Barbas Rhoden has created and nurtured numerous student community outreach programs including Wofford and Me, a program to increase college aspirations of first graders; the Spanish Academy at E.P. Todd Elementary School; and the Arcadia Volunteer Corps. She has published two books from the University Presses of the University of Florida and the Ohio University Press. At Wofford, she has served on numerous committees, including the Faculty Development Committee, the Interfaith Youth Core Working Group, the Committee on Post-Graduate Scholarships, the Student Affairs Committee and the Presidential Advisory Committee.
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.
Retiring Faculty Members
The following faculty members, who are retiring at the end of this academic year, were recognized at Commencement. All have been granted emeritus status:
C. Michael Curtis, professor of English
Dr. Angela B. Shiflet, the Larry Hearn McCalla Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
Dr. George W. Shiflet, the Dr. and Mrs. Larry Hearn McCalla Professor of Biology
Dr. Cynthia A. Suarez, chair and professor of Education
Dr. Ana Maria Wiseman, dean of International Programs and associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures
by Laura Hendrix Corbin