By Karen Petit
If there was one certainty for the graduates at Lander University’s 166th commencement ceremonies Wednesday (Dec. 14), it was that change is an inevitable part of life – and that showing up every day to face those changes is crucial.
Commencement speaker Elizabeth Snipes, a professor of art and Lander’s 2022 Distinguished Professor of the Year, said the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, bringing changes to the graduates’ academic journeys and plans.
Snipes was the featured speaker at the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. ceremonies in the Finis Horne Arena as Lander conferred bachelor’s and master’s degrees to 305 graduates.
During the pandemic’s upheaval, which affected everyone in similar and different ways, Snipes said, came the realization that “we cannot change circumstances,” but the circumstances do change – and how a person grows from these circumstances is optional for each individual.
Calin Wharton, of Abbeville, who earned a master’s degree in business administration, said her quest toward graduation included the deaths of four family members over a three-month time span, the burning of her church, and “doing all of this, the studying and working, during the pandemic.”
Yet, the adversity helped her “prove to myself that I was worth it, that I could challenge myself and be proactive. I could do this,” said Wharton, who is a data analyst for Self Regional Healthcare.
Wharton, who credited her friend, Evan Hatch, with helping her through the rigors of classes, said, “We’re just proud of ourselves, and we’re proud of each other.”
Hatch, of Columbia, who also earned his master’s degree in business administration, said the challenges “propelled me into growth.”
Having obstacles to overcome gave him the opportunity to “change myself, or adapt.” He did so because earning his degree was the opportunity to fulfill a dream his mother had for herself and a goal, too, of his grandmother. “I finished this out for them.”
He said the University’s online MBA program “fit well with my schedule,” which includes a Lander job, where he works in computer repair. He hopes to continue in this field, particularly at a college or university.
Snipes’ encouragement that graduates “show up” was perhaps one of the last bits of advice that the graduates would take away from Lander.
She was emphatic: “Show up. Show up again. You show up, and you keep showing up … and when you fall, you get up. You show up, and you show up and show up and show up.”
Snipes’ words found their way to Honors College graduate Gabby Rogers, of Greenwood, months ago. Showing up on difficult days was a habit formed while earning a bachelor’s degree in science, with an emphasis in genetics. Rogers was in her sophomore year when COVID-19 shut down Lander’s campus. Taking organic chemistry classes online “was not the easiest thing to do.”
But she showed up for those online classes and the ones held on campus when she returned to Lander in August 2020. Now, Rogers is looking ahead. She plans to earn her certification as an Emergency Medical Technician and complete an internship with a physician before applying to medical school in the fall.
“Today is the start of something new. I’m finishing this part of my life and moving on to something else,” Rogers said.
When nursing student Lydia O’Neal showed up for a pediatric nursing internship in Arusha, Tanzania, she faced culture shock. Patients were being treated for severe malnutrition, typhoid and malaria, which are rare in the United States. But the welcoming reception from the community’s people made her feel at home within a couple of days.
O’Neal, of Hanahan, said, “The people there can’t travel, so they are very interested in learning from travelers about the United States and why we are there.”
Although O’Neal is looking ahead to a career as a labor and delivery nurse at Self Regional, her study abroad experience helped her envision a life as an international travel nurse.
Alexis Stone will put her bachelor’s degree in science, with an emphasis in genetics, to use during the first week of January, when she begins working at the Greenwood Genetic Center laboratory.
Her undergraduate education forged a sense of independence and self-reliance. “Today means I did it. I will be working in my dream job,” she said.
She’s ready, too, for whatever lies ahead. “I’m OK with it. I’m very OK with jumping in full speed.”
Through showing up for the tough classes during the pandemic, O’Neal had a chance to find words of wisdom for future students. “Have fun in college, and learn about yourself as much as you can. Do well in school, but don’t let it rule your every move. You only live it once.”
And, as Snipes told the Class of 2022, “Appreciate the hard work that you have done. Celebrate … so that you can show up again and again and again. “
That way, the new Lander alumni can say boldly to the next unknown, “Bring it on!”