Although many sitting in the audience already had overcome obstacles in their pursuit of a college degree, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette called on the Class of 2023 to embrace failure without fear as Lander University conferred bachelor’s and master’s degrees to 555 graduates during its 167th commencement Wednesday (May 3).
Evette was the guest speaker for the 11 a.m. ceremony for graduates of the College of Business, College of Education, and the School of Nursing.
During a ceremony at 3 p.m., Dr. Lucas McMillan, dean of the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences, addressed the graduates from his college, as well as those from the College of Arts & Humanities, College of Science & Mathematics and the Interdisciplinary Program.
“Don’t allow fear to keep you from jumping head first toward your your dreams,” said Evette, who was a successful business leader before being elected as the Palmetto State’s first Republican lieutenant governor in 2018 and re-elected in 2022.
She told the graduates to put fear into perspective. “When we fail, we learn from it,” she said, noting that she looked back on every hardship and failure with positivity and had learned to accept life’s curve balls as opportunities for growth.
Evette implored the graduates to have integrity, which she called “a precious resource.”
Living with integrity, she explained, “is something you must do every day … even when you know no one is watching or listening. To me, having integrity is and will always be one of the most valuable things that we have in life.”
The descendant of immigrants who came to the United States after fleeing the hardships of life in Poland in the early 1900s, Evette told the graduates to dream big. “Don’t pump the brakes before you even get started.”
She asked the graduates a series of questions about their future. “Will you limit yourself or will you go for it, go for the big dream? Will you let fear stand in the way or will you take risks? What will you do when no one is watching? Will you choose to be divisive or will you engage with others with open arms and an open heart? Will you be willing to put in the time and persevere, to see curve balls in life as gifts?”
In concluding her remarks, Evette said, “This education has equipped you to launch your careers and participate in the civic lives of your community, defy expectations, inspire others and make an impact that radiates through your community and beyond.”
Among those who refused to allow fear to shape her future was Peterra Richburg, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education and walked across the stage with infant daughter, Aria, in the audience. Richburg received international attention this past fall when a story went viral about her baby’s attendance in a Lander classroom. Aria began crying, and Dr. Samuel Reed, an assistant professor of mathematics, picked up the baby so that Peterra could take notes and continue on with her class.
The road to commencement was filled with challenges for the new mother, who had a one-hour commute to and from campus and worked for a food delivery service to pay for gas. “I’m so grateful for the support that I have had from everyone, including my professors,” Richburg said.
On a day when she felt as if she would have to quit her academic journey, Richburg said a professor called her with a message of encouragement. “My professor said, ‘we will help you,’ and they did,” she said. “My professors and my family saved my life. I was in a dark place, and I wanted to give up so many times, but they kept saying, ‘you can do this.’ I didn’t give up. It all seems very emotional now.”
Richburg will begin a new job as a sixth-grade math teacher at Northwoods Middle School in the fall. “I am proud of where I am now.”
Richburg and all other Lander graduates are, as McMillan told graduates, in “rare company.”
Only 29.8 percent of South Carolina residents age 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree – slightly less than the national average of 33.7 percent for the entire United States, McMillan said.
“This puts you in rare company, and you should feel a sense of pride in your achievement.”
However, having educational preparedness “also means that you have awesome obligations,” McMillan said, including “a responsibility to yourself to seek your full potential, to carefully define what success means given your goals, and to hold yourself accountable to what you know to be just and good.”
Other responsibilities, he said, are:
A sense of responsibility was not lost on Logan Ellis of Alberta, Canada, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in history and a minor in military science and leadership. Recruited to play on Lander’s lacrosse team, Ellis found another calling at Lander – a desire to serve in the U.S. military.
Ellis, who earned President’s List academic honors throughout his four years at the University, joined Lander’s ROTC program and is pursuing a military career. After graduating from Lander and receiving his commission as an officer, Ellis will be stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he will undergo studies in the Army’s Basic Officer Leadership Course. He hopes to pursue a career in military intelligence.
Ellis chose the military “because I want to do my part for the nation … to stand up for liberty and freedom.”
For Moises Flores, of Saluda, his bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, with a minor in cybersecurity, is a milestone for his family. He is the first in his family to go to college and earn a degree.
Growing up in a small town, Flores said his mother took him and his siblings to the library frequently. He appreciated those trips for his first steps toward learning, and he found an interest in taking computer classes in high school. Flores said that he became fascinated with computer programming and learning about the structure of computing and the need for cybersecurity.
He became familiar with Lander’s academic programs through two older cousins who had found success at the University. “I never toured campus,” he said. “I came to Lander sight unseen.”
Flores was accepted into the University’s Honors College and poured himself into his studies. He reflected on his undergraduate years at Lander, saying, “I always felt welcome here.”
He earned Dean’s List academic honors and recently was awarded the Honors Medal, a bronze medallion he wore around his neck during the commencement ceremony. It is the most elite award presented by Lander’s Honors College.
“Earning my degree is a really big deal for me and for my family,” said Flores, who has shared his love for Lander with his sister, Perla, who is majoring in nursing.
“I will always remember the friends I made here,” he said. “I will have long-lasting friendships because of them. Without these people, I would not be where I am now.”Visit lander.edu/photos for additional photos from Lander’s commencement ceremonies.