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Furman graduates nearly 500 in two ceremonies

Logan Coffee ’24 gives the student address during commencement in McAlister Auditorium on Saturday, May 4, 2024.

Last updated May 4, 2024

By Clinton Colmenares, Director of News and Media Strategy

Livestream >> Photo Gallery >> Student & Faculty Awards >> Commencement Address by Thomas Cullen ’00 >> Student Address by Logan Coffee ’24 >> Senior Spotlight >>

A pouring rain soaked Furman University’s campus Saturday, cancelling the traditional graduates’ procession down Furman Mall and forcing ceremonies indoors instead of in Paladin Stadium. But smiles were abundant, bright and sunny and the outlook was clear for the nearly 500 graduates who participated in Commencement 2024.

Diplomas were handed out in two ceremonies in McAlister Auditorium. Graduates receiving a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Music marched in a 3 p.m. event. Graduates with a Bachelor of Science, a graduate degree or an education specialist degree celebrated at a 7 p.m. affair in Furman’s 198th year. There were 529 graduates total; 491 participated in commencement.

In each event, the Furman Symphonic Band played the theme to Star Wars as family and friends settled in their seats and Pomp and Circumstance as the graduates processed in.

Elizabeth Davis, president of Furman, provided a welcome, and acknowledged seven faculty members who retired after the 2023-2024 academic year:

  • Laura Ellen Baker, associate librarian, who served 23 years on the faculty,
  • William Mebane Baker, professor of physics, who served after 30 years on the faculty,
  • Carmen Sofía Kearns, professor of modern languages and literatures, who served 30 years on the faculty,
  • Savita Nair, Gordon Poteat Professor of History and Asian Studies, who served 21 years on the faculty,
  • Jay Edward Oney, professor of theatre arts, who served 28 years on the faculty,
  • Marian Elizabeth Strobel, William Montgomery Burnett Professor of History, who served 43 years on the faculty, and
  • Suzanne Burger Summers, James C. Self Professor of Business and Accounting, who served 25 years on the faculty.

Sydney Beraho ’24, Kelsey Sumter ’24 and Alexandra Murray ’24 presented the senior class gift, designed to “educate the senior class on what it means to give back to Furman,” Beraho said.

“As the ‘Covid Class,’ our freshman year was compromised and we missed out on opportunities that we would’ve had; but the impact our donors poured into each facet of Furman allowed our freshman year to remain a memorable one,” she said, and added a common phrase in development: “A dollar makes you a donor.”

Fifty-four percent of the Class of 24, or 237 students, donated $14,419 to more than 50 Furman initiatives.

Student, faculty awards

A graduate speaks at a lectern.

Logan Coffee ’24 gives the student address.

Beth Pontari, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, and Kevin T. Byrne ’91, chair of the Board of Trustees, presented awards to students and faculty.

The Donaldson-Watkins and the Bradshaw-Feaster Medals for General Excellence are awarded each year by the faculty to outstanding senior graduates based on scholarship, general culture, participation in college activities and high moral character.

Saluda Abigail (Abby) Stapleton ’24 received the 2024 the Donaldson-Watkins Medal. The 2024 Bradshaw-Feaster Medal went to Caroline Graham Brawley ’24.

The Furman University Scholarship Cup goes to graduates with the highest grade-point average. Each Scholarship Cup winner achieved a perfect academic record.

This year, Scholarship Cups were awarded to Stapleton, Brawley, Logan Manning Coffee ’24, Gabrielle Lisette Fehler ’24, Christina Hunter Fleming ’24 and Joshua Richmond Hutson ’24.

The Alester G. Furman Jr. and Janie Earle Furman Award for Meritorious Advising goes to a member or members of the faculty or staff judged to be exceptional academic advisors. This year, the award was presented to Veronica Lee Flores, assistant professor of psychology and Kevin Richmond Hutson, professor of mathematics.

The Alester G. Furman Jr. and Janie Earle Furman Award for Meritorious Teaching goes annually to a member or members of the faculty in recognition of teaching excellence. The 2024 award went to Matthew Shepard Feigenbaum, professor of health sciences.

The Chiles-Harrill Award is presented annually to a member of the faculty or staff chosen by the senior class as having the greatest influence on the class. Recipients of the award become honorary members of the class and sit with the class during the Commencement ceremony. The 2024 Chiles-Harrill awardee was Andy Coe, the associate director of the Internship Office in Furman’s Center for Engaged Learning.

Student addresses

Coffee, the student speaker, drew a metaphor between the walls in her North Village apartment, at which she stared while thinking of something to say, and other Furman walls that were not confining but freeing.

“The walls of Furman Hall, Johns Hall, the library, and others have allowed us to free our minds. These academic spaces have opened doors to new ideas and pursuits. Within the walls of Furman’s academic buildings, we’ve been able to scribble the parts of a cell on whiteboards, have heated debates about justice and Plato’s Republic and create glorious pieces of art,” Coffee said.

Furman’s walls offer windows to expand opportunities through study abroad, internships and other programs. And, she said, Furman has helped break down walls and build a Furman family.

“Thanks to our time at Furman, we already have the tools to be great people and make great things happen in this world,” Coffee said. “So, to anyone who says that the Class of 2024 can’t break down any barrier or wall in their way, all I have to say is: ‘FU!’ Congratulations to the Class of 2024. We did it!”

A white man wearing glasses and a graduation robe talks at a lectern

Thomas Cullen ’00 speaks to the Class of 2024.

 Keynote address

Thomas Cullen ’00 delivered the keynote commencement address and received an honorary doctorate in law. Cullen is a member of the Board of Trustees and he is the U.S. judge for the Western District of Virginia.

The audience laughed at several of Cullen’s jokes, especially when he said he didn’t remember the speaker at his graduation, and he wouldn’t be remembered either.

But the bulk of his remarks were a serious reflection on society as well as the Class of ’24. Members of the class, he said, are similar to previous Furman graduates in their high levels of achievement. But they differ in important ways.

“Furman today is, in my view, more welcoming of those from different backgrounds. Participation in student groups, clubs, and social organizations now transcends, to a greater degree than in years past, differences in race, religion, identity, and wealth (or a lack thereof). Even more importantly, certain individuals and groups who, historically, felt isolated, excluded, or unheard now feel more connected to this campus. Those are laudable changes, and they have undoubtedly made Furman better,” Cullen said.

He lauded the university for its Statement of Freedom of Inquiry and Expression and the On Discourse initiative. He implored graduates to engage in civic affairs with civility, tolerance and free expression.

“We desperately need to lower the temperature in this country (and, to put it bluntly, be a little nicer to each other),” said Cullen, who, as a U.S. Attorney, led the prosecution of people involved in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

He offered advice for engaging in discussion and defending moral convictions. His entire speech is available here.

“There is still a lot of evil in this world—whether racism, antisemitism, other forms of ethnic or religious bigotry, cruelty, violence, terrorism or myriad other manifestations of human wickedness,” Cullen said. “You must be willing to speak out forcefully and unequivocally when moral clarity is required. We are counting on you to have the courage to do just that. And knowing, first-hand, the kind of people you are, I have every confidence that you will.”

Among the students’ names called in the 3 p.m. ceremony was Michael Ryan Wood, who died in March 2021 as a first-year student.


In closing, Davis told the graduates, “You found ways to connect and form deep, lasting friendships. You celebrated each other’s successes and comforted one another through disappointment and loss. A global pandemic disrupted the start of your college years. And yet you overcame. We overcame. As a community.

“The world is as challenging as it ever was, maybe more so. You will continue to face hardships, and you will continue to experience great joy. And you will persist. And thrive. With resilience, and with community. Hopefully Furman has prepared you, and not just for a job. Jobs and careers will change. I hope we have prepared you for life. For resilience. For joy.

“Finally, remember that Furman is your forever community. We will be here for you, and hope you come back.”


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Clinton Colmenares
Director of News and Media Strategy