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Furman celebrates Dick Riley and 20 years of The Riley Institute

Former Secretary of Education and two-term governor Dick Riley regaled hundreds of friends, colleagues and admirers in the Younts Conference Center on Thursday night, Oct. 3, with stories from his two terms as South Carolina’s governor, his cabinet position in the Clinton Administration and as a life-long advocate for education reform. The event marked the 20th anniversary of The Riley Institute at Furman University.

Riley ’54, who still goes into his office at the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, told tales from his early days as a state politician, with “no money” and polling in the single digits, to reaching the heights of national politics, including a brush with a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Riley’s vision for The Riley Institute was to bring the world to Furman students. He and the institute’s staff succeeded in creating what many believe is the premier academic policy hub in South Carolina, which includes opportunities for Furman students to engage with national policy makers, continual support for education research, a statewide diversity leaders initiative (graduates are Riley Fellows) and a national after-school policy fellowship program called the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship.

After opening remarks by Furman University President Elizabeth Davis, Frank Holleman and Terry Peterson, who served with Riley in the Department of Education as deputy secretary and chief education counsel, respectively, asked Riley to share specific memories through their years of collaboration. Others who shared stories were David Wilkins, former ambassador to Canada; Judy Winston, former chief counsel and undersecretary of Education; David Shi, a former Furman president; Don Gordon, the current director of The Riley Institute; Jacki Martin, the institute’s deputy director; and a video excerpt from President Bill Clinton’s 2014 presentation at the Peace Center.

After stories were shared, Susan Shi, a Furman trustee, unveiled a surprise: a bust of Riley by artist Zan Wells, who is also Riley’s cousin. The bust sits atop a pedestal made by Furman employees from oak trees that were removed from the campus last year. It will be placed in the lobby of Johns Hall, home to The Riley Institute and the Department of Politics and International Affairs.

Many of the attendees stayed after the event for a barbecue and oyster roast on the lawn of the Cherrydale Alumni House.

You can view a timeline of The Riley Institute here.

In a video available here, people share their experiences with The Riley Institute.

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Last updated October 7, 2019
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director