By Dudley Brown and Robert W. Dalton
Commencement was a joyous occasion, as it should have been, but Wofford’s 167th Commencement was even more meaningful considering such an event wasn’t possible a year ago. Throughout the weekend, President Nayef Samhat expressed gratitude for the opportunity to have in-person gatherings.
The weekend included the largest on-campus events in more than a year as 350 graduates were saluted and the contributions of faculty and longtime friends of the college were recognized. Masks and social distance were still a part of the event, but graduates were able to celebrate with each other and their families while providing the college with its first semblance of normalcy in a while.
“We are grateful to be here today — in person — to celebrate our newest graduates,” said Samhat during Commencement exercises at Gibbs Stadium. “We have all planned for this moment, but as the pandemic has taught us, sometimes the best plans are derailed by circumstances beyond our control.”
Shawan Gillians ’04 served as the ceremony’s featured speaker. Gillians, a Wofford College trustee and an attorney and director of legal services and corporate secretary with Santee Cooper, reflected on the Class of 2021’s unique experiences of studying during a pandemic while witnessing civil unrest over the past year. She also encouraged graduates to fight egotism and engage in intentional acts of kindness.
As Gillians noted, graduates possibly had moments when they grappled with loneliness.
“While I spent my college years believing I understood what John Donne meant when he wrote that no man is an island entire of itself, you lived the sunset of your college career in and out of quarantine; certainly to be forgiven for feeling that you were indeed alone on an island,” said Gillians. “That your troubles were yours alone to bear. Your joys to be celebrated alone.” (Read Gillians full speech.)
Class of 2021
The weekend included Phi Beta Kappa induction, Honors Convocation, Baccalaureate and Commencement, held this year in Gibbs Stadium for the first time.
Honorary Degree Recipients
During Commencement, the college awarded 364 Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees to 350 graduates. The college also conferred honorary degrees on three individuals: Dr. James E. Bostic, who served on the college’s board of trustees for 23 years; Dr. William B. Gravely ’61, a recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation grant that supported his research on what’s considered South Carolina’s last racially motivated lynching; and Dr. Steven A. Skinner ’76, director of the Greenwood Genetic Center and a clinical geneticist.
Sullivan Award Winners
The college presented the prestigious Mary Mildred Sullivan Award to Price Rainwater ’21, a biology major from Florence, S.C. The nonstudent recipient was Dr. Gloria W. Close, a former administrator with the University of South Carolina Upstate who’s led initiatives to improve education and housing for Spartanburg youth. The recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award was Matthew Newton, a government and environmental studies major from Santee, S.C., and the nonstudent recipient was Dr. Leland G. Close, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg.
Special teaching awards were presented to Dr. Catherine Schmitz, professor of French, who received the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Dr. Katherine Steinmetz, associate professor of psychology, who received the Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science.
Au revoir DR. CAROLINE MARK
One of the highlights of Dr. Caroline A. Mark’s tenure at Wofford College was receiving the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities’ Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010.
“Teaching — that is, focusing on students and their needs — has always been my passion, and seeing that passion recognized was so gratifying,” says Mark, professor of French.
Mark retired at the close of the academic year after 37 years at Wofford. She was promoted to professor emerita.
Mark came to Wofford in 1984 after earning her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“My professors were rooting for me to land a job there, as they knew Wofford was a fine institution,” Mark says.
Wofford’s location — halfway between family in Atlanta, Ga., and Greensboro, N.C. — was part of the attraction for Mark. But she says it was Wofford’s tight-knit community that made her stay.
“I have come to love Wofford’s faculty, staff and students, and I have appreciated the administration’s support and encouragement,” she says.
Mark says one of her favorite memories was telling Dr. Dan Maultsby ’61, dean of the college and professor of sociology emeritus, that she was pregnant during finals week in May 1985. She says Maultsby told her she would be the first Wofford faculty member to have a baby.
“Since the faculty then was mostly men, that news did not surprise me,” Mark says. “I gave birth to that first faculty baby on Dec. 28, 1985, just 10 days after turning in final grades, and was given Interim off as my maternity leave.”
Mark says she’s looking forward to no more alarm clocks and no more grading. She plans to take on some fun projects with her daughter, Claire Cunningham, and travel with her husband, Andy Mark. She also says she’ll be back on campus for French Club events and possibly Lifelong Learning at Wofford classes.
“I will miss my dear, wonderful students,” she says. “They have seen me shed tears as I’ve made my goodbyes. It’s probably how graduating seniors feel — looking forward to the culmination of a lot of hard work but sad to be leaving people you love.”
Unfinished business DR. GERALD THURMOND
Dr. Gerald T. Thurmond is going to take care of some unfinished business.
Thurmond, professor of sociology and anthropology, was hiking the Appalachian Trail in March 2020 when the growing COVID-19 pandemic forced him to head home. He’s going to take up where he left off.
And he’ll have time to do it. Thurmond retired at the end of the academic year after 41 years of service.
He arrived at Wofford in 1980 after a two-year contract at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C., wasn’t extended. He had a new baby and says he was desperate for a job.
“I came to Wofford on another short-term contract to replace Dr. Dan Maultsby ’61 (dean of the college and professor of sociology emeritus) in the sociology department,” Thurmond says. “When he became dean, my job became tenure track. What seemed like the worst of luck at St. Andrews turned out to be one of the luckiest things to ever happen to me. I ended up teaching at Wofford for more than 40 years.”
Thurmond taught 13 classes per year — four each semester, two each in the two summer sessions and Interim — for most of his career. He did it, he says, because Wofford was the perfect place for him.
“The classes were relatively small, and I could get to know many of my students,” he says. “Also, I made friends with colleagues from art history, biology, chemistry, government, philosophy and other departments, and that was an education in itself. This is not possible in big universities.”
Wofford also allowed Thurmond to explore his interests, including natural history and writing.
“In what other place could I have hunted snakes in Florida, Arizona and Western Mexico with Dr. Ab Abercrombie (retired professor of biology and social sciences), or kept snakes and other critters in my office, sat in on a novella writing class with Dr. Deno Trakas (professor of English emeritus) and discussed poetry and nature writing and edit an anthology with John Lane (professor of environmental studies emeritus)?”
Thurmond says some of his favorite memories are of individual students. And it wasn’t always the most academically talented who captured his attention.
“I was always comforted to know that whatever grade a student got in my classes was no indication of their worth as a person or their future success,” he says. “Some of the students who did not get the highest grades in my classes were some of my favorites and have gone on to do great things.”
Thurmond plans to spend his next chapter traveling, writing and taking courses. He says he may teach in the Lifelong Learning at Wofford program. The excitement of a new year with new people in it will be one of the things he’ll miss the most.
“Every year, I had a chance to start over and maybe try to do things a little different and better,” he says.
Moving on DR. JOHN FARRENKOPF
One of Dr. John Farrenkopf’s most memorable moments during his Wofford tenure was designing an interdisciplinary course on German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler and his analysis of the decline of the West.
A highlight of the course for Farrenkopf was that it used his book, “Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics,” as its primary text. In conducting research in Germany for the book, Farrenkopf received two Fulbright and two Thyssen scholarships.
“A high point of teaching the course was the impressive quality of the essays and term papers that many of my students diligently crafted,” Farrenkopf says.
Farrenkopf, professor of government and international affairs, retired at the end of the academic year after 15 years of service at Wofford. He was promoted to professor emeritus.
He arrived at Wofford in 2006 after having been previously tenured at McMurry University, a Methodist college in Abilene, Texas.
“I had completed an M.A. in government at Georgetown University and Ph.D. studies in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, and my parents had built a beautiful home in the city where it’s located,” he says. “So an excellent liberal arts college in the South, such as Wofford, definitely had appeal.”
Farrenkopf says another memorable moment came in his final semester.
“I thoroughly revised 35 original lectures I had written for my course on modern China and shared them with the students enrolled in the course conducted over Zoom in order to enrich their educational experience,” he says.
Farrenkopf says there are many things he will miss about Wofford, first and foremost among them being the students. He says he’ll also miss the ROTC program downstairs from his office and “the opportunity to inject humor into instruction, and the intellectual excitement of the classroom.”
Farrenkopf said he would especially miss Dr. Robert Jeffrey, a fellow professor of government and international affairs, and other colleagues.
In the short term, Farrenkopf says he’s looking forward to sticking to his exercise program, expanding his “limited culinary repertoire” and socializing once the pandemic is over. He also plans to study foreign languages, travel and teach more, either in the United States or overseas.