University Communications would like to offer a special thanks to these students as well as the members of the faculty and staff who helped us tell the stories of just a handful of the many outstanding members of the 2019 senior class.
Chelsea McKelvey didn’t come to Furman intending to be the face or voice of anyone other than Chelsea McKelvey. She didn’t shy away from the opportunity, however.
“I didn’t necessarily seek it out, but I always feel the responsibility to speak up when I see things that aren’t being done well or when I feel an institution is not holding itself accountable to its value and its mission,” she says of her experience as a member of Furman’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice, where she became an eloquent voice for African-American members of the student body.
“I felt like I was able to reach out to (people) in the majority and help them understand what my experience was like on campus as well as my peers’,” she says. “The process was exhausting, but I think the long-term effects are going to be pivotal, which I so appreciate.”
Speaking of pivotal, a study away in Spain was key to her becoming fluent in the language, and two internships in Washington have her contemplating a post-graduation life in the nation’s capital. Chelsea has been accepted into graduate programs in higher education at George Washington and Georgetown as well as Columbia universities.
The task force taught her something that will serve her wherever she goes. “Education is so important, but I think that also listening is the biggest factor in all of this,” she says. “Sometimes when there are frustrations that need to be addressed, people end up preaching at you or trying to tell you what to do, and nobody responds to that well.”
One word best described the future when Matt Rafferty got his hands on the ball this season: unpredictable. That also turned out to be a pretty good descriptor for one of the most special chapters in the 106-year history of men’s basketball at Furman.
The Paladins surged to a record 13-0 start that included a stunning upset of defending national champion Villanova and culminated with an unprecedented ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the most wins ever by a Furman team (25). None of it would have been possible without Matt, who established himself as one of the nation’s best players.
Opponents didn’t know if the undersized center would break out a crafty post move (he led the team in scoring), fire a pinpoint pass to a teammate for an open 3-pointer (he led the team in rebounds and assists) or tip away a pass (he set a school record for steals).
Matt didn’t know that by the time he left Furman he’d be a part of its winningest basketball class ever (90).
“One of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, for sure,” he says of seeing himself and his teammates on ESPN. “People hadn’t heard of Furman until we were on SportsCenter.”
The success also put Matt on the map as a potential professional player, and powering through Furman’s dreaded Business Block like any other student will undoubtedly help in contract negotiations. He laughs when asked if professors cut hoops stars any slack. “No, no,” Matt says. “I don’t like being babied for being an athlete. We’re just held to a little higher expectation, which is good for us."
Elizabeth Garcia Ponte doesn’t hesitate when asked to name the most significant part of her college experience: The opportunity to have the experience in the first place. “I was really uncertain if I would be able to actually go to college,” she says. “So just the fact that I was able to get in was pretty impactful.”
No, grades weren’t the problem for Elizabeth, who is now trying to decide between Ph.D. programs in materials science and engineering at Cornell University and UC Santa Barbara. Being an undocumented immigrant, on the other hand, was. A big one.
Elizabeth, whose parents brought her to the United States from Uruguay at the age of 5, is protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But she is not eligible to receive any federal or state financial aid, and it took a combination of scholarships to allow Elizabeth to attend Furman. She didn’t waste the opportunity.
A fellowship at the California Institute of Technology highlights four years of researching and presenting research across the country, which she accomplished while also playing violin in the Furman Symphony Orchestra.
There is no path for Elizabeth to gain U.S. citizenship, but she’s as used to it as she can be and remains focused on the future. “My mom used to tell me, ‘You’re not at the same level for opportunities as your peers,’ and I kind of took that to heart and tried to work as hard as I could,” Elizabeth says. “It is a burden and it is difficult, but it’s something I have to overcome.”
Everyone told Andrew Teye he should go into teaching — even Andrew Teye. However, after his experience with the Pauper Players, Furman’s student-run musical theatre group, Andrew decided to draw the line there at pretending to be someone else.
“I thought I was going to come here studying education,” he says. “But I started to perform in musicals, and I realized theatre is such a big part of me.”
Andrew’s ideal future is one where he’s turning those visions into reality by writing and directing plays that challenge the status quo.
“Now I realize I want to be more of a creator creating theatre pieces that mirror society and will cause impact in society,” he says. “My mission is to create a contemporary theatre back home in Ghana that features plays that highlight those issues and especially feature local plays from local playwrights.”
Andrew gained valuable knowledge about the technical aspects of dramatic productions as a theatre arts major, and he found a mentor in Associate Professor of Communication Studies Janet Kwami a fellow Ghanaian. Another impactful experience was his time conducting research for Furman’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice, where Andrew brought a unique perspective.
“This was a way for me to understand the reality of my ancestors, because that history is not discussed that much in Ghana,” he says. “My biggest takeaway is that there’s still so much history we don’t know, and it does still impact and influence us today. And not knowing and ignoring it is a statement already.”
More than a few college seniors would like very much to be in Rachel Simon’s shoes right now, comfortable in the knowledge she’s already won a competitive race to land a job in Chicago as a business analyst with Deloitte, one of the “Big 4” accounting firms.
For someone who once thought she’d be a therapist or teacher, however, joining the corporate world wasn’t as much of a no-brainer as you may think. “I think the biggest thing that has been tough for me — in terms of pursuing a route in business — is sometimes there can be this perception that you can’t work in a job like that without sacrificing some of your values,” Rachel says. “Are you being greedy? Do you still want to give back?”
She still wrestles with those questions, but her experience with Furman’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter showed her that doing well for herself can be compatible with doing well for others. It wasn’t until she made the decision to abandon a psychology major, however, that she found the right path and began flying down it.
Rachel crammed her business classes, including the daunting Business Block, into only three semesters and achieved what she sees as the key to her eventual position in Deloitte’s human capital consulting practice when she was named a Furman Metropolitan Fellow in 2017.
“If you would have told me I’d spend a summer in New York and then decide to live in downtown Chicago I would have thought you were crazy,” Rachel says with a laugh. “I had chickens in high school.”
Yunhui Yang discovered the secret to education at Furman: Study things you care about. “I was joking with my friend that I became a nerd after I came here,” he laughs. “But a nerd in good ways.” His parents wanted him to pursue science, and, lacking a better plan of his own, Yunhui was ready to accede to their wishes — that is, until a class taught by Associate Professor of History Lane Harris, a Chinese historian, changed virtually everything he thought about education and his future.
“The first year I tried earth and environmental science, which seemed useful. But in the first semester I was also enrolled in Dr. Harris’ intro Chinese history class,” Yunhui remembers. “He had a lot of interesting stories and useful information.” So Yunhui signed up for another class with Harris — followed by another and another. The next thing he knew, he’d taken nine, and now he’s headed to Harvard to pursue a master’s degree in regional studies — East Asia, where he will continue digging into whether the Ming dynasty should be classified as an empire (long story).
That driving passion, once unimaginable, was sparked by research under Harris. “I am going to be a historian in the future,” Yunhui says. “Dr. Harris encouraged me by saying he believed I can make some achievements if I choose something I’m interested in … To be honest, I never thought about graduate school before I came to Furman. It was like, ‘College — done.’ But after college I want to achieve more, which is something Furman and Dr. Harris gave me. So I really appreciated that. It’s very safe to say it’s changed my life.”