In August 2019, hundreds of students began their college experience with a walk down Furman Mall toward McAlister Auditorium for the Opening Convocation ceremony. Saturday evening, they walked together again – in the other direction – into Paladin Stadium for the Commencement ceremony celebrating the end of that journey.
As she was four years ago, Furman President Elizabeth Davis was there to welcome the Class of 2023, along with their families and friends in the stands for Furman’s 197th year. On the field, the musicians of the Furman Symphonic Band and the Furman Singers joined the student marshals and ushers – who, Davis noted, delayed their summer vacations for the occasion.
Honoring scholarship and service
Furman University President Elizabeth Davis
Davis also acknowledged the members of the Class of 1973 who had come to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their own Commencement, and she took special notice of the legacy families – the graduating students who followed previous generations to Furman – as well as the first-generation students who were the first in their families to earn a college degree.
“Thank you for making Furman part of your family’s story,” Davis said.
Lauren Pollino ’23 and the other senior class Student Government Association representatives presented the class gift: a check for $13,845 that had been raised since November 2022 toward various campus funds.
Special recognition for students and faculty followed, with Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Beth Pontari and Board of Trustees Chair Kevin T. Byrne ’91 joining Davis to present awards for excellence in scholarship, teaching and advising. Davis also acknowledged seven faculty members – with a combined 233 years of service to Furman – retiring as the school year ends.
‘A place where people can belong’
“Belonging has been at the core of who I am for as long as I can remember,” said student speaker Mary Morrison ’23, who was adopted as an infant in Bucharest, Romania.
Morrison, a psychology major who plans to pursue a doctorate in occupational therapy, thanked adopted family for “my support, my love and my strength,” before turning her attention to her Furman family.
“I look at you, Furman, and know where I got my passion, my confidence, and where I found myself,” she concluded. “Thank you for making this a place where people can belong.”
Reason, truth and engagement
Tomiko Brown-Nagin ’92
The conferring of degrees started with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for this year’s Commencement speaker, Tomiko Brown-Nagin ’92, a leading historian on law and society “who embodies the highest ideals of a just, educated society characterized by access to opportunity and the pursuit of change,” said Davis.
After receiving her doctoral hood from Pontari, Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, took the podium. After a quick shout-out to Furman’s men’s basketball team, she encouraged the Class of 2023 to “use reason, pursue truth, and be courageous as you pursue a better world.”
The success of the Civil Rights movement was “born of dissent and engagement,” said Brown-Nagin, the author of two books on the history of the movement.
“If our nation is to thrive, and if our democracy is to flourish in the 21st century, we must engage with one another, even – and especially – when we disagree,” she said.
‘We will be here for you’
Dean of Faculty Jeremy Cass ’00 then presented the candidates for the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science and Education Specialist. Five hundred and twenty-five students crossed the stage to shake hands with Davis and receive their diplomas.
SGA President Joshua Swope ’23 repeated the elaborate handshake he and Davis had debuted during the Convocation ceremony in Fall 2022. Gresham Brown received his Educational Specialist degree as his children, Commencement marshals Louisa Brown ’24 and Hayes Brown ’26, watched from the field.
More than 500 students received degrees during Commencement 2023.
The walk to the podium that began with Convocation four years ago had not always been smooth, Davis told the new graduates.
“We celebrated each other’s successes and comforted one another through disappointment and loss,” Davis said, adding that Janet Kwami, a professor of communication studies, had died the evening before: “We will miss her dearly,” she said.
“You faced and overcame many challenges and obstacles over your four years at Furman, including a global pandemic that disrupted your first year and impacted much of your time here,” said Davis. “When college students behind you complain about how hard college is, you can say, ‘Really? Let me tell you what hard looks like.’”
But they persisted on their pathway with resilience, Davis said, developing the strengths they would need as their journeys continue.
“I am excited for whatever comes next for you,” she said. “That’s because I believe Furman, and your experience here, have prepared you for successful and meaningful lives.”
Before a performance of the Alma Mater and a benediction concluded the ceremony, Davis made one final request of the Class of 2023: Keep in touch.
“We expect you to engage with your university and the Furman family,” she said. “We will be here for you.”