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Presbyterian College Commencement

“My time at PC with our students, our faculty, and our staff has offered me a refreshing reminder of what’s right. In this world, it is possible to rediscover the art of civil discourse."



May 13, 2023

Presbyterian College presented the Class of 2023 with wisdom, encouragement, and congratulations at the 140th Commencement for the College of Arts and Science on May 13.

And more importantly, they received the degrees they worked so hard to earn and the right to call themselves PC alumni.

In his last commencement address at PC, president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg – who will become the new president of Ohio Wesleyan University in July – told graduates they are more than the sum of their majors, diplomas, or first jobs.

“You’ve developed skills that will help you build a career and lead a life of meaning and purpose,” he said. “Throughout your PC journey, you’ve learned to ask incisive questions. You’ve sharpened your ability to address problems you’ve seen and you’ve heard. And you felt what it means to serve others with grace, so that you enter the world an even more self-aware, collaborative, adaptable, and thoughtful version of yourself.”

President vandenBerg said the world needs those attributes as never before. Poverty, human rights, environmental degradation, and the erosion of empathy and constructive dialogue are just a few of the problems graduates face, he said.

But the Class of ’23 offers the world hope, vandenBerg added.

“My time at PC with our students, our faculty, and our staff has offered me a refreshing reminder of what’s right,” he said. “In this world, it is possible to rediscover the art of civil discourse. We can work together to build stronger and more resilient communities we can center ourselves and summon the will to solve tough problems.”

vandenBerg presented graduates with three final lessons he learned as PC’s president. The first, he said, is to take a stand.

“Don’t just sit on the sidelines, tearing down and criticizing the efforts of others,” he said. “Know what you value and do something about it.”

vandenBerg told graduates they must also bring unwavering grit, determination, and fierceness to what matters most to each of them.

“As I have learned so many times here, your challenges don’t define you,” he said. “You define you.”

Lastly, vandenBerg told the Class of ’23 to empathize and collaborate with people with different perspectives.

 “Climb out of your silos and echo chambers and find the courage to engage honestly with opposing viewpoints,” he said.

PC’s Outstanding Senior Kennedy Wright ’23 told her classmates she is proud of their dedication and perseverance to earn their degrees, including a global pandemic.

Wright reminded them that the theme of their first-year orientation – “Be Bold” – should also be the theme for their future.

“As you leave this place and embark on the next chapter of your lives, I encourage you to be bold in everything you do,” she said. “Be bold in pursuing your dreams, in standing up for what you believe in, and in making a difference in the world.”

Wright said bold people do things differently.

“Being bold means taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone, and pushing yourself to do things that may seem daunting or even impossible,” she said. “But it also means having the courage to fail, to learn from your mistakes, and to keep moving forward.”

Wright left her classmates with an inspirational quotation from civil rights activist Pauli Murray:

“Surrender to none the fire of your soul.”

Likewise, PC Professor of the Year, Dr. Ben Bailey, told the Class of ’23 to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“Your post-PC life will be full of questions – some important, some trivial,” he said. “But you will face questions that you have no answers to. And you must become comfortable with the ‘I don’t know.'”

Bailey told graduates they will often feel like they are out of answers.

“I hate to tell you this, but the likelihood of suffering from bouts of imposter syndrome only increases with knowledge!” he said. “Your ability to embrace the discomfort and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow is a vital skill that will serve you well in all aspects of life.”

“Embracing the discomfort also means embracing fear – fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of judgment. … The more we confront our fears and push past them, the less power they have over us.”

It is okay to fail, Bailey said. It is not a sign of weakness but a step toward growth.

“Progress is an illusion; everything is cyclical,” he said. “There will be peaks and valleys, highs and lows. Trying to avoid the lows by avoiding risk and discomfort never works though. The most ‘successful’ people in your life have failed countless times, but they didn’t let those failures define them. Instead, they used them as learning opportunities and continued to move forward.”

During the ceremony, PC provost Dr. Kerry Pannell recognized the valedictorians for the Class of 2023 – those students who graduated with perfect 4.0 grade point averages. They are:

  • Itzel Martinez Coria of Irmo, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude, Honors in Biology
  • Mallorie Aspen Jaeger of Newberry, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude
  • Liliana Irene Jaraczewski, of Greenville, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude, Honors in Chemistry
  • Madeline Danielle Richburg of Lugoff, S.C. – Summa Cum Laude

Pannell also recognized mathematics professor Dr. Brian Beasley, who is retiring after 35 years of service.

PC presented alumnus and college trustee William Brown Shearer Jr. ’64 with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recognition of his service to PC and his remarkable career as an attorney.

Shearer’s exemplary 45-year legal career included serving as attorney to many premiere corporate and celebrity clients – including CBS, the Walt Disney Co., the Los Angeles Angels, Bjorn Borg, and James Brown.


May 13, 2023

Presbyterian College’s Class of 2023 may not have heard what they wanted to hear from this year’s baccalaureate speaker at first – but what they needed to hear was inspirational.

The Rev. Joe Evans ’02, the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Ga. – whose address was titled, “Leaving Home” – asked graduates if they are ready to leave their alma mater.

“Have you learned what you came here to learn?” he asked. “Have you done what you came here to do? Are you ready to leave this place, which maybe for the last four years has felt like home?”

Evans said he remembers feeling the same way sitting in Belk Auditorium for baccalaureate. Not knowing what was coming next. He said he, too, experienced the same familiar things – eating meals in Greenville Dining Hall, making friends, and playing intramural sports. Evans said he even fell in love with one of his classmates, Sarah Hernandez, who later became his wife.

While he took a lot of memories and relationships with him after graduating PC, Evans said he also had to leave some things behind.

“As you go out into the world, I call on you to reflect on what it is that you will take with you from this place,” he said “And what you will leave behind when you leave home. You cannot take everything with you.”

Like the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, it is time to surrender a child’s past and embrace the journey to adulthood.

“The journey which you are on demands you leave home,” Evans said. “You can’t have the bright future God intends for you and you can’t become the person you are destined to become if you are not willing to be refined. If you are not willing to leave parts of yourself behind. Don’t forget that. This life sacrifice is required for you to become who you are destined to become.”

In addition to the steps he took to earn his future wife’s trust and respect, Evans said he remembers being summoned to former professor Dr. Peter Hobbie’s office after earning a “C” on a test – and rolling into and out of that test wearing rollerblades.

“He asked me one of the most important questions that I’ve ever been asked,” Evans said. “He asked me, Joe, when are you going to start taking seriously the gifts that God has given you? At that time, I didn’t know I had any gifts. I had no idea what it was that he was talking about.”

Evans said Hobbie saw what he might become if he literally and figuratively left the rollerblades behind – and so he did.

More importantly, Evans said he came to learn many of the same lessons the Apostle Peter learned in the New Testament. Peter’s journey from fisherman, to ardent follower, to denier, and lastly to church leader illustrates the need to overcome the fear of remaining in place, Evans said.

“Friends, as you think about graduating from Presbyterian College – this place that may feel like home to you – do you have that same fear? If you don’t, your parents do. Or your teachers do. But they have prepared you to take what you have learned here out into the world.

“But this process of leaving behind childish ways to become someone else –  to become the one God calls you to be, to become the one this world needs you to be – is one that requires persistence.”

Evans said he, too, did not know exactly what he was going to do after graduating from PC, but he was determined to find out.  He left home.

“Not only did I leave home, but I kept on believing that I was on the way to someplace even better, though leaving home was always a risk,” he said.

Evans said PC graduates must leave also.

“Because this place is not your final destination,” he said. “We are on our way from a place that feels like home to the new creation. But the thing about the new creation is that we don’t know what it’s going to look like. All we know is that we must keep walking towards it, believing in it until we get there leaving the familiar in favor of the promise.”

Evans called on the Class of 2023 to answer God’s call to learn and grow and serve.

“Tomorrow you graduate from college,” he said. “But your education is not complete. Tomorrow you’ll leave home and you’ll go out into the world but don’t you dare settle in for the next place you land is not your final destination either. Tomorrow you will take an important step towards becoming the person God created you to be, but you still have work to do. You still must continue to listen to the people God places in your path who will help you along the way. … God is not done with you. The diploma which you will receive tomorrow – go on and get it framed. Hang it proudly. But never mistake your diploma for the sign that you are complete.

Evans said each graduate’s journey is just beginning.

“When you will leave this place tomorrow you are on the way to something even better,” he said. “All that is required of you isthat you continue leaving, leaving your old self behind while holding on to the promise that there are gifts inside of you that must be taken seriously, because the world needs that you have gifts that the world outside this campus need so badly.”

At this year’s baccalaureate, PC also presented three community members with the Martha Anne Green Service to College and Church Award:

  • Craig Powell ’86 – PC professor of chemistry, ordained elder, and audio-visual coordinator for First Presbyterian of Clinton
  • Jerre Threatt – PC corporate and foundations relations officer and ordained elder and property committee chair for First Presbyterian of Clinton
  • Megan Walsh – speech pathologist for Laurens County School District 56, Clinton City Council member, and ordained elder and worship committee chair for First Presbyterian of Clinton


May 13, 2023

Twelve new second lieutenants – including three from Presbyterian College – were ushered into the U.S. Army during the Highlander Battalion’s annual commissioning ceremony on May 12.

PC president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg reminded the group they are part of a tradition and a calling that few people will know or understand.

“Few of us can truly understand the sacrifices that you or your families have had to make, and are making, and are going to make throughout your career,” vandenBerg said. “I think even fewer of us can wrap our heads around the strength of your commitment to freedom and democracy. Fewer yet of us have truly come to appreciate the level of selflessness, the strength of character, and the depth of love for God and country that it takes to do what you’re doing.”

Choosing a military career presents unique challenges, but also rewards beyond measure, vandenBerg said.

“You’re going to learn skills that will make you a better person, a better citizen, and a better leader,” he said. “You’ll face adversity, but you’ll also get precious opportunities to fundamentally improve the world.”

Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Jones, the deputy adjutant general for the South Carolina Army National Guard, told the new officers to pay attention to the “four Rs” – recognition, remembrance, and responsibility.

Jones said the first people to recognize are the members of the U.S. armed forces serving around the globe.

“They’re the best-trained and best-prepared military force in the world – and they’re a force for good,” Jones said. “And guess what? They are waiting on your leadership.”

Jones said the ROTC graduates should also recognize those who served in the past and the hard work that earned them their lieutenant bars.

“Congratulations on exhibiting the pride, the integrity, the courage, the dedication, and commitment to do all the things that are necessary to make their service your own,” he said. “And because of that, you stand today one of the less than one percent who are willing to stand up in uniform and protect our country. And make no mistake about it – your service is what’s going to keep us the land of the free. It’s what’s going to keep us the home of the brave. And it’s what’s going to keep us a beacon of hope in an often troubling world.

Jones also encouraged graduates to recognize family members and members of the ROTC staff whose support helped them become military leaders.

Jones also called on the new lieutenants to remember those who paid the ultimate price for freedom – dying while serving their country.

“They serve as a reminder of the true cost of freedom,” he said. “They serve as a reminder of the true strength of America. We honor them. And we need to make sure we do that every day. And how do we do that? We do that by going out and being the best soldiers we can be, the best Americans that we can be each and every day because their sacrifice commands nothing less than our best effort.”

Military leaders must also remember to serve the people they lead to make sure they make their way home safe and sound, Jones said.

The main responsibility of a leader, he said, is to understand the oath they take to defend their country and to simply “do right.”

“The oath is one of the most important public proclamations you’ll ever make,” he said. “It’s a legal document to guide your thoughts and your actions. … It’s a sacred trust that you cannot fail.”

Finally, Jones asked the newly commissioned officers to represent the Highlander Battalion.

“Maintain relationships with each other,” he said. Not only that but with Highlander graduates that come after you. Today you become the bridge builder. You are the mentors now, and that is your responsibility.”

Two PC students earned top honors at the commissioning ceremony. Cadet Payton Hibler, a junior from Simpsonville, earned the Capt. Kimberly Hampton Leadership Award, given in memory of Hampton, a 1998 graduate of PC who was killed in the line of duty. A helicopter pilot and one of the first female combat aviation commanders, Hampton was shot down and killed outside of Fallujah during the Iraq War in 2004.

2nd Lt. Gentry Hawk received the Wysor Saber as the Highlander Battalion’s outstanding senior cadet. The award is named in honor of Col. Robert E. Wysor, who served as the head of PC’s ROTC program following World War I. Hawk, a native of West Union, S.C., will serve in the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps following graduation.

PC’s other newly-commissioned officers included:

  • 2nd Lt. Benjamin Bayles – Dudley, N.C. – Field Artillery, Active Duty
  • 2nd Lt. Sean Fowler – Loris, S.C. – Infantry, S.C. Army National Guard


May 13, 2023

Fifteen graduating education majors officially entered the teaching profession during the annual Teacher Induction Ceremony in Kuhne Auditorium on Friday, May 12. Cinda Ginn, the Thornwell Charter School Teacher of the Year, delivered this year’s address to the soon-to-be-graduates and teachers. 

Classroom Heroes

Ginn, who began teaching special education in 1999, relayed some of her stories since teaching at Thornwell Charter School over the last three years. She also offered words of encouragement as the new teachers embark on their careers. 

“You are my personal heroes because you are going out to educate our country’s future,” Ginn said. “It is a tough, often thankless job, but it is so necessary for our kids today to have bright, energetic teachers to have as role models. You are needed in every school.”

Ginn spoke about the challenges that teachers face and warned the new teachers that the daily demands of teaching will leave them “mentally, emotionally and physically drained.”

“You will look at the clock at 8:00 pm and ask, ‘Is it too early to go to bed?’” she said. But Ginn shared tips with the new teachers in the form of the acronym “PRESBY” to help them persevere. 

Put People Over Paperwork 

Ginn said teachers will always have papers to grade, meetings to attend, and lessons to write. 

“And all that work will get done,” she said. “But your students need you every day. They need to know you are there for them.”

Ginn shared the story about one of her students who asks her for a pencil every morning. Ginn said the student doesn’t really just need a pencil: He needs “some reassurance, someone he can talk to about his worries and successes.”

“So, look and listen,” Ginn said. “Put your students over your paperwork. Get to know them and once you do, foster that relationship. You will be a light to them. You may even become the reason they come to school.” 

Remember Your Resources

Ginn said that new teachers’ best resources are their fellow teachers. 

“Beg, borrow and steal ideas and things they have to give away,” she said.

“Talk to them. Vent to them. And when you do, they will become your tribe and your ‘counselors.’ I consider my coworkers not only my friends, but my confidants.”

Exercise and Engage 

Ginn shared that new teachers need to fit self-care into their busy schedules to stay healthy.

“Get outside and walk, run, skip. Go to the gym. Do yoga,” she said. “Keep a  journal. Write about your wins, your defeats, and everything in between.

“Write about things that worked in the classroom and things that didn’t so you can go back to them the next year and use your experience to help you grow as a teacher.”

Ginn also encouraged the graduating educators to incorporate writing into the classroom regardless of the subjects they plan to teach. 

Stick to a Routine 

“This will be impossible some days,” Ginn admitted, “because another thing you need to do as a teacher is monitor and adjust always.”

Still, Ginn recommends sticking to a classroom routine and enforcing classroom rules. 

“When possible, there is comfort in routine, and students need that,” Ginn said. “They aren’t comfortable with what’s new or different, and they really don’t like it when rules change.”

Be the Light

Ginn encouraged new teachers to be the light for their students and fellow teachers. She quoted Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, the lamp is placed on a lampstand where it gives light to everyone.”

Ginn confessed that it is easy to become discouraged in the teaching profession. She said the new teachers can serve as a source of positivity for their fellow teachers and for their students as well. 

She said she often hears her students calling themselves “dumb or stupid” and reminds them that “they’re some of the smartest students I’ve ever known.” 

“They are their own worst critics and they need to be told that they are amazing,” Ginn said.

“And when they do something well, praise them out loud so everyone can hear. Tell other teachers and their parents.”

Ginn said she told one of her classes that they were her honors class because of how well they were doing on reading and writing assignments.

“I could almost see them sit up a little straighter in their chairs,” she said. “A little compliment will go a long way, so stay positive and be the light.”

You Will Be Their Heroes

“You will be their heroes,” Ginn told the graduating seniors.

“You will be amazing. You’ve had a top-notch education here at PC. You have been taught how to teach from this amazing education department and you have the world at your fingertips.” 

The Students Become Teachers 

The 15 graduating education majors recited the Oath For Graduating Educators after Ginn’s inspirational address. During the ritual, the new teachers pledged to bring honor to the  teaching profession, stated their dedication to the profession, and formally accepted their “obligation to improve the general condition of humanity, their responsibility to advance knowledge and cooperation, and their duty to promote the competence of their students.”

The education majors include: 

  • Kate Bazemore (Sylvania, Ga)
  • Jacob Brasseur (Lexington, S.C.)
  • Keith Boyd (Chester, S.C.)
  • Angel Cooke (Camden, S.C.)
  • Blanton Cox (Pawleys Island, S.C.)
  • Kendall Goldfarb (Longwood, S.C.)
  • Elizabeth Grier (Greenville, S.C.)
  • Abbiegail Hudson (Gray Court, S.C.)
  • Mallorie Jaeger (Newberry, S.C.)
  • Dessa Jones (Mauldin, S.C.)  
  • Kiersten Price (Gilbert, S.C.)
  • Hannah Ryder  (Travelers Rest, S.C.)
  • Olivia Sadorf (Chapin, S.C.) 
  • Hailey Sanders (Lancaster, S.C.) 
  • Hannah Schuetz (Cary, S.C.)
  • Brendan Shaw (Charleston, S.C.)