Class of 2022 celebrates with family and community at Commencement
By 5 p.m. Saturday, there were already a few of them dotting the length of Furman Mall – students looking for the perfect backdrop to pose in cap and gown for a parent’s smartphone pic. By 7 p.m., there were more than 600 in full regalia, ready for the traditional procession into Paladin Stadium. And at the end of Furman University’s 2022 Commencement ceremony, all of them would walk out of the stadium again, this time as Furman’s newest alumni.
After the procession – accompanied by the Furman Symphonic Band playing “Pomp and Circumstance” – and an invocation from University Chaplain Vaughn CroweTipton, Furman President Elizabeth Davis welcomed the students seated on the field along with their loved ones watching from the stands.
“We’re delighted that family and friends are here to share this evening with the undergraduate and graduate degree candidates, who are the stars of this show,” Davis said from the podium.
Among the Class of 2022, the president noted, were 87 students who had a family member who previously attended the university. She recognized those legacy students from the podium, along with a group of students who were the first in their families to earn a college degree.
“To each of you, we honor and celebrate this milestone,” she told the first-generation students. “Perhaps this is the occasion of a new start of a family tradition for you.”
Honoring community with opportunity
Family and community were recurring motifs for many Commencement speakers, including Kenneth William Brian ’22, who presented the Senior Class Gift. The Class of 2022 Staff Community Scholarship will provide access to education for a full- or part-time Furman staff member, spouse or legal dependent in pursuit of education at any accredited two or four-year college or university.
“As graduating seniors, it’s hard not to think about this particular group of people – Furman staff – who have supported our experiences,” Brian said as he presented Davis with a check for $25,167.67 to support the scholarship. “We are pleased to have this opportunity to honor them and their aspirations for years to come.”
After thanking Brian and his classmates, Davis, assisted by Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Kenneth Peterson and Board of Trustees Chair P. Edwin Good ’67, began the awards presentation. Awards included the General Excellence Awards, the Scholarship Cup, and the Alester G. Furman Jr. and Janie Earle Furman Awards for Meritorious Teaching and Advising.
Graduating senior Yunji Rosie Kim, an international student, continued the family theme in her student address.
“Every single time I say ‘bye’ to my family for the school year, it always causes such emotional struggles,” Kim said. “For the first time, I feel the same way about leaving a place that is not South Korea – my new home: Furman University.”
The senior acknowledged the challenge of attending college during COVID-19.
“While we can talk forever about how much the pandemic ruined our lives, I hope we learned to see the light in the darkness,” Kim said. “The pandemic gave me the ability to pause and reflect. To connect the dots in my life.”
As she concluded her address, Kim recognized her parents, who had traveled from South Korea for their daughter’s graduation.
“They raised and supported me as I built a new home in a different world that they never got to see,” she said tearfully. “They are finally here to see my other home and family, and I am so grateful for my two worlds colliding.”
‘Be the one’
After receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, Cynthia L. Davis ’84, former vice president of Nike Inc. and president of Nike Golf, picked up the theme of rising to challenges in her Commencement address. But first, she reassured the seniors that, having politely sat through a such a speech as a student (and standout collegiate golfer) herself 38 years ago, she sympathized with their plight.
“Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m what stands between you receiving your diploma and officially launching into the world,” she told them.
She also understood the challenges they will face.
“You’re going to be called to leadership in ways that are more important and likely complicated than ever, no matter what path you take,” she said. “But there is so, so much opportunity.”
Davis urged the seniors to rise to whatever occasions they encounter.
“My advice to you: Be the one to answer that call,” she said. “Be the one to have that courage. Because we – and when I talk about ‘we,’ I mean the world – are counting on you.”
‘Make a difference’
The highlight of the ceremony was the conferring of degrees. As the candidates filed across the stage and Dean of Faculty Jeremy Cass announced their names, President Davis shook hands and handed over more than 600 Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Liberal Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science and Education Specialist degrees.
“I hereby confer upon each of you the appropriate degree with all of its rights and responsibilities,” she told the graduates. “Congratulations!”
As the ovation from friends and family echoed through Paladin Stadium, President Davis continued to weave the threads of family and community.
“We build community when we share experiences, and during our four years here together, we have done just that,” she told the students. “We found ways to connect and form deep and lasting friendships. We celebrated successes and comforted each other through disappointment and loss.”
Davis concluded with a challenge.
“I hope that we have inspired and nurtured your intellectual curiosity,” she said. “Use this curiosity to drive you to a better understanding of our world and its people. Use your understanding to make a difference in the communities in which you reside.”
With the president’s wishes for the Class of 2022 to “continue to thrive, prosper and grow,” the ceremony concluded with a performance of the Alma Mater, a benediction from the chaplain and an orchestral postlude. As the last notes bounced off the walls of the already emptying stadium, the Class of 2022 was streaming off the field, on their way to celebrate with their own friends and communities, carrying their Furman experiences and memories with them along the way.