The World Needs Visionaries

Distinguished author and White House correspondent April Ryan challenged Claflin's Class of 2018 to make their mark on society through political and social engagement, as they begin the next chapter of their lives. She also told the graduates to look back from where they came to see their hopes for the future.

"When I graduated from college in 1989, I could have never imagined questioning four presidents from the United States," said Ryan in her keynote address on Saturday, May 12, to 385 visionary scholars and their families and friends at Claflin's 148th Commencement. "In the times in which we live today, you need to be open to what life brings you. This chapter is closing at this moment. It's the next day that matters. And, if after graduating from this wonderful HBCU you don't know who you are, you don't know where you are going."

Since 1997, Ryan has served as a White House correspondent and is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. In 2017, she joined CNN as a political analyst. In May 2017, the National Association of Black Journalists named Ryan as the "Journalist of the Year." Ryan has been a member of the White House press corps for American Urban Radio Networks since January 1997 and has long been the only black female reporter among the White House correspondents. She is a member of the National Press Club and one of only three African Americans to have served on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

"I think about the students at Harvard University and how they are told, 'You are the best of the best and we educate you so that you can go out and change the system.' Why does that have to be a doctrine for Harvard," Ryan asked. "Why can't it be a doctrine for Claflin and other HBCUs? You matriculated through this historic HBCU to challenge the system and to leave here as someone who brings good to the community. It's not easy but you have to show them who you are."  

Ryan, a graduate of Morgan State University, was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater in 2017. She began her media career as a jazz disc jockey before turning to reporting.

"This has been an historic year. Last month we remembered that is was 50 years ago that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated," said Ryan. "We still worry if our HBCUs will remain open. We live in a time when our kids are having issues when they go to a waffle house and a time when you need to wear the paraphernalia of certain schools to sit in the lobby of a residence hall at that school. Fifty-eight years ago, the poor people's March was started by Dr. King. But we are still talking about issues of poverty in Washington, D.C. Fifty-years ago the Kerner Commission issued its historic report about the relationship between police and the black community and people today are upset because Colin Kaepernick is taking a knee. You need to know who you are and who's you are. What will be your story?"

Ryan gained notoriety in 2017 after notable exchanges with President Donald Trump and his former press secretary Sean Spicer. At a February press conference, when Trump began talking about "inner city places" and urban crime, she asked him if he planned to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). He responded by telling Ryan to set up the meeting with them before asking, "Are they friends of yours?" Ryan responded that she was only a reporter and not a member of the CBC. As one of the few African Americans in the White House press corps, Ryan is often the only journalist asking questions on issues concerning minorities.

"We are in a critical time. It's on you. You are our hope and our change," said Ryan who admitted she becomes upset when young people use their vote to protest rather than support a candidate. "I don't care who you vote for.  Your vote makes a difference," said Ryan. "Too many people died by the crack of the billy club or had the sting of the hose on their skin so you could vote. You are the hope and dreams of slaves and those who marched for our rights. You are part of 'we the people.' There is power in who you are. When you think about where you come from and where you going, you may not really know what life has in store. But understand that you carry the hopes and dreams of your families because many of you are first generation college graduates.  Blood, sweat and tears paid for your degree. Do not let us down."

The Class of 2018 comprises 385 students. The students represent 38 counties in South Carolina, 19 other states, and eight international countries. The top five majors for Class of 2018 graduates are criminal justice, psychology, mass communications, business administration and biology.

Two high-achieving seniors of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College, Trisana Fairweather and Brianna Williams, achieved 4.0 cumulative grade point averages and were presented Presidential Academic Excellence Awards. 

Fairweather, who had the highest total of credits hours, was selected to give the "Senior Challenge." She was Claflin's first-ever NCAA Division II national champion and All-American in track in the 200 meters. Fairweather earned her bachelor's in accounting and she will continue her education in graduate school at Indiana University.

Williams, a psychology major who was recognized as a "Rising Star" in the prestigious Ron McNair program, will pursue a doctorate degree at the University of Illinois.

The Presidential Excellence in Leadership and Service Award was presented to senior Dominque Riggins, a history major from Albany, Ga. Riggins, who served as president of Claflin's Student Government Association (SGA) as a junior, plans to attend law school.

Dr. Belinda Wheeler was the recipient of the James E. Hunter Excellence in Teaching Award. Dr. Wheeler is an associate professor of English. 

Dr. Bijoy Dey, assistant professor of physical chemistry received the William and Annette Johnson Innovative Scientific Research Award. Dr. Dey has been awarded two patents and articles on his research have received multiple citations from scientists from around the world.

The Golden Class of 1968, which celebrated its 50th anniversary as Claflin graduates, was presented Golden Diplomas. Nearly 40 members of the Class of 1968 returned to the University for Commencement Weekend activities that included a luncheon on Friday, May 11, hosted by President Tisdale and First Lady Alice Carson Tisdale.

Four members of the Class of 2018 were commissioned with the rank of second lieutenant (O-1). The students have completed South Carolina State University's Bulldog Battalion Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program and earned active duty commission in the United States Army.
Since 1967, Claflin University has offered Air Force and Army ROTC programs through a cross enrollment agreement with South Carolina State University.

Claflin's graduating ROTC cadets are: Deandre Jordan Jennings, a criminal justice major from Columbia, S.C.; Latasha Camray Deasia Jones, an early childhood education major from Charleston, S.C.;  Jessica Brielle Mozie, a business administration major with a concentration in accounting from Winnsboro, S.C.; and Nicholas Dashawn Williams, a computer science major from Hampton, S.C.
Graduate School and Professional Career Await Four Class of 2018 Claflin Scholars 
Claflin University's 148th Commencement on Saturday, May 12, represented the culmination of four or more years of rigorous academic preparation for members of the Class of 2018. During her remarks, keynote speaker and CNN White House Correspondent April Ryan asked Claflin's 385 visionary leaders in the graduating class, "What will be your story?"
For many, the next chapter of their story begins with continuing their academic journey at prestigious graduate and professional schools or launching their career with a Fortune 500 company.

Trisana Fairweather and Brianna Williams achieved 4.0 cumulative grade point averages and were presented Presidential Academic Excellence Awards during Claflin's commencement. Fairweather and Williams are headed to graduate school and both were members of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College. Fairweather will attend Indiana University to pursue a master's degree in accounting. Williams will enter the master's program for psychology and counseling at the University of Illinois.

"I am very excited about graduating and everything I accomplished at Claflin," said Fairweather, who delivered the "Senior Challenge." She was Claflin's first-ever NCAA Division II national champion and All-American in track in the 200 meters. 

"I came to Claflin on an academic scholarship and joined the track program as a walk-on. I did not come here expecting to become a national champion but working hard, training hard, and doing my best enabled me to excel," said Fairweather. 

Fairweather also received scholarship support from the Passport to College program, a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for qualified students from developing countries who are strong in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to attend college.

As a first-generation graduate, Fairweather understands what her degree means to her family. "The commencement was a one-in-a-million extraordinary event for my family," said Fairweather. "My mother could not make the trip from Jamaica, but she was able to watch the live streaming of the ceremony on the computer. She is very, very happy and excited."

Williams described her Claflin experience as "academically stimulating" and said that her mentors and advisors contributed to her success in the classroom and her personal development.

"Mrs. Cynthia Duncan Joseph and Dr. Anisha Bagasra were instrumental in providing me the inspiration and guidance that helped me achieve my goals," said Williams. Joseph is the director of Claflin's Freshman College and Bagasra serves as interim director of online education and a psychology professor.

"Claflin has prepared me with the skills to navigate in a world of diverse attitudes and cultures," Williams said. "Claflin taught me how to think critically as a visionary leader and transformed me into a responsible adult ready to affect positive change in the world."

Williams plans on earning a doctorate in counseling psychology. Next, she wants to become a college professor and move up through the ranks in higher education administration.

"After teaching, I want to be a provost or possibly a university president," said Williams.

Hillary Mokaya and Abraham Kipcchirchir Rotich were among the 17 international students in the Class of 2018. Mokaya earned a bachelor's in business and administration with a concentration in finance. Rotich received his bachelor's in biochemistry. Mokaya is from  Nairobi, the capital and largest city of Kenya. Rotich is from Eldoret, Kenya. Both graduates were also students in the Honors College.

"My career goal is to be a venture capitalist, so I want to learn more about finance and investments," said Mokaya. "We learned a lot of concepts and theories in the classroom, but several of my professors shared their real life experiences which were extremely helpful."

Mokaya has accepted a position with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is recognized as the second largest professional services firm in the world, and is one of the Big Four among global accounting firms. Mokaya is the company's first campus hire in their New Ventures program.

"Traditional accounting processes are being replaced," said Mokaya. "Companies are now attempting to survive by developing new services and products. The goal is to create innovative technology in accounting that will generate profit around the clock - like Google, Facebook and other digital and online enterprises."

Mokaya said that he was very shy when he arrived at Claflin. However, he now has the "Claflin Confidence," and he is ready for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
"I have grown since I began my Claflin journey," he said. "I am looking forward to the next chapter and the start of my professional career."

Rotich will attend Case Western University to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.

"Claflin provided me the opportunity to work in the biology department as a research assistant with Dr. Nick Panasik," said Rotich. "He taught us to explore new methodologies and techniques to solve problems. I conducted research at Claflin and I also spent two years at the University of Iowa. As a researcher,  you expect to be challenged by other researchers, which creates a great teaching and learning environment."  Rotich's Honors College Thesis was related to one of his undergraduate research projects: "Alternative Production of Lactose-Free Milk for Lactose Intolerant People: Enzyme Redesign."

"I made many friends and I will cherish my time at Claflin," said Rotich. "My professors challenged me to think and really prepared me for graduate school."

"The accomplishments of these students represent Claflin's commitment to preparing graduates who will make a positive impact on the nation and world in education, business and industry, science and technology, government other areas of our society," said Claflin President Henry N. Tisdale. "We are especially proud of our graduates who will continue their education at renowned universities and research centers or launch their professional careers with high-paying jobs at top tier companies. The Class of 2018 will continue Claflin's enduring legacy of producing diverse and engaged visionary leaders with global perspectives."
Claflin Grad Sets Sights on Pharmacy Career Through New Academic Partnership

Claflin University administrators and faculty had students like Saidah Wright in mind when they began establishing partnerships with some of the region's leading medical and professional schools.

Wright, a member the class of 2018, received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry at Claflin's 148th Commencement on Saturday, May 12. She is the first student to earn a degree through Claflin's 3+4 partnership with the Campbell University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Wright will continue in the program and pursue a doctorate in pharmacy.

"The 3+4 program allows students to earn a biochemistry degree after three years at Claflin. The students spend their senior year completing the program at Campbell University, where they earn credits toward a doctorate in pharmacy," said Dr. Angela Peters, vice provost for academic programs. "The partnership with Campbell is one of several agreements Claflin has with Clemson University, Presbyterian College and the University of South Carolina in pharmacy and other programs."

Wright, a talented scholar in the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College, said she was tremendously impressed with Campbell's College of Pharmacy after attending a health professions readiness and enrichment program for prospective students.

"The sessions exposed us to admissions requirements, their focus on recruiting underrepresented minorities and a wide-range of career opportunities in the field of pharmacy," she said.

Professors in Claflin's School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics take special interest in their students through advising, securing internships and sharing their expertise in conducting groundbreaking research. Wright is a product of that nurturing environment.

The partnerships align with the university's strategic plan, "Claflin LEADS: A Shared Vision for the 21st Century," in which LEADS is an acronym for Leadership and Professional Development, Experiential Learning, Academic Excellence, Diversity and Inclusion and Student Success. They also contribute to Claflin's growing reputation for producing high-achieving graduates from the STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines.

Preparing students for opportunities in the 21st Century workforce, including high-paying jobs in STEM, is consistent with Claflin's leadership of the UNCF® Career Pathways Initiative Grant, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. Claflin, Benedict College and Voorhees College received part of a $6 million grant that will help the institutions design and implement programs to improve employment outcomes for graduates.

"My ultimate career goal is to work in underserved communities," Wright said.

"My interest in a career in healthcare was influenced by my desire to help people. Pharmacy allows me to be the most accessible healthcare provider for patients. This degree will give me that opportunity."

Wright was first introduced to the patient and pharmacist relationship while working as a technician at a local pharmacy in Orangeburg.

"Working with Dr. Mark Jamison was a motivating and inspiring experience. It changed my perception of what it means to be a pharmacist," she said.

"It's a lot more than dispensing pills and filling prescriptions. You have to make sure the medications and dosages are correct and that it's the right medication. If it's an independent pharmacy like Dr. Jamison operates, the pharmacist must be extremely organized because it's a business," Wright said. "Dr. Jamison really cares about patients so he talks to them about their medications and charts their progress. But he also maintains and check his inventory of products and supplies. It takes a special person to run an independent pharmacy, and Dr. Jamison does an awesome job."

She added, "There is a high demand for pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to provide service to underserved communities. Several states and federal agencies offer incentives including paying off student loans and tuition for working with the American Indian population. This would provide me an opportunity to utilize my healthcare knowledge and education to promote healthier lifestyles and help this population overcome barriers to good health."

Asked to reflect on her academic achievements and her choice to attend Claflin, Wright said she would not change anything.

"Initially, I was hesitant about staying in Orangeburg and enrolling at Claflin," she said. "However, Claflin really shaped me into becoming a visionary. If all goes as planned, I will have earned three degrees before reaching my 25th birthday. I have not thought too much about it. But when I do, I will remember that it all began at Claflin."

Wright, a class of 2013 graduate of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, is the daughter of Carl and Lydia Wright of Orangeburg.
Cancer Survivor Shares Story of Triumph and Graduates with Class of 2018

When Ashanti Pitts entered the South Atlantic Conference Seventh-day Adventist Convention Center on Saturday, her laughter and tears symbolized a journey of triumph, strength and determination. 

Her matriculation at Claflin was filled with challenges that many college students would hardly envision.

In 2010, after noticing a lump on her right foot that was unbearably painful, the Orangeburg native was diagnosed with a giant cell tumor of the bone during her senior year of high school.

After seeking medical attention, Ashanti underwent surgery to remove the benign tumors from her right foot and was ordered to wear a medical walking boot for three months.
"I felt defeated, because most of my classmates were planning for life after high school and I was dealing with a health scare that I thought would end my dreams of attending college," she said.

Despite her illness, an impressive audition for the Claflin University Concert Choir earned Ashanti a scholarship as a music major. Eager to begin her college years, she arrived on Claflin's campus ready to sing with the choir, begin her studies in music and enjoy the college life.

Shortly after arriving to Claflin, she again experienced pain and swelling in her right foot. Ashanti and her mother Kenita D. Pitts, a 2013 Claflin grad, traveled to the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital in Charleston.
Kenita was also attending Claflin through the Center for Professional and Continuing Education. After being examined by a MUSC specialist, they were told the unimaginable: the tumors had reappeared, traveled to her lungs and heart valves, and were cancerous.

"I never thought or imagined that I would be sitting with my beautiful daughter in a room filled with cancer-stricken children who were so full of hope," Kenita said.

In October 2010, Ashanti was forced to withdraw from Claflin as she focused on her battle with cancer.

"Moving out of my dorm room, leaving my friends behind and being forced to quit the concert choir left me feeling confused and depressed," Ashanti said. "Music was all that I knew and loved. I believed my dreams of earning a college degree were crushed."

Ashanti's treatments included countless surgeries for reappearing foot tumors and growing tumors in her lungs that affected her breathing. She also underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments that caused hair loss, body blistering and severe second-degree burns that left her confined to a wheel chair.

Determined to achieve her goal of earning a college degree, Ashanti completed rigorous breathing therapy and physical therapy before her oncologist released her to return to Claflin in the fall of 2012.

Although she could return to school, Ashanti was advised not to continue singing in the choir because of the risk that aggravating the remaining tumors on her lungs would cause other health issues. When she returned to Claflin, Ashanti changed her major to sociology.

"I was so nervous coming back because it felt like starting all over again," Ashanti said. "Although I did not know what to expect the second time around, being back on campus gave me a sense of normalcy and allowed me to overcome the depression I had experienced. I was determined more than ever to finish what I started."

Ashanti's ultimate recovery also inspired her mother to finish her degree.

"Every day I wanted to quit and just focus on her. She just would not allow it. Her strength is amazing and inspirational," said Kenita, who graduated summa cum laude with a dual degree in sociology and criminal justice.

The bond between mother and daughter grew even closer after Ashanti and Kenita joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Both are active in campus events and in the Orangeburg community.

"My road to graduation was unique and it was not easy. I am humbled to be here, and I can smile because I am a cancer survivor," said Ashanti, who plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career as a rehabilitative counselor. "I hope the story of my journey will inspire others to persevere - despite the obstacles and challenges - to achieve their goals."
May 16, 2018
In This Issue
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@Claflin is published by the Office of Communications & Marketing 
President: Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, '65
Vice President for Institutional Advancement: Rev. Whittaker V. Middleton, '73
Assistant Vice President for Communications & Marketing: George Johnson Jr.
Public Relations Director: J. Craig Cotton
Social Media and Public Relations Coordinator: Bernita Cooper, '12
Web Communications Manager: Colin Myers, '07
Sports Information Director: Romanda Noble-Watson
Photographers: Cecil Williams, '60, Geoff Henderson and Colin Myers, '07