Erskine Bowles Tells Class of 2013: "I am Converse, through-and-through"

Erskine Bowles
Erskine Bowles
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With southern charm and casual candor, former White House chief of staff and fiscal responsibility guru Erskine Bowles told graduating seniors to use their power to push Washington for change. The son of a Converse alumna, Bowles said Converse gave his mother her backbone, it gave her voice and it pushed her out of her comfort zone, and in turn, "she pushed me...So I, too, am a graduate of Converse College. I am Converse through-and-through."

Delivering the commencement address to the Class of 2013 in a packed Twichell Auditorium, Bowles went on to urge the newly minted grads to get mad. "Sisters, I want to make you angry – angry at me and my generation for kicking the can down the road and shirking our responsibility. The current fiscal deficit is a cancer that will destroy our future, and the future of all college graduates. Get mad; get angry; tell your friends; demand that your elected officials deal with this crisis."

Awarded with an honorary degree, the 67-year-old Erskine Boyce Bowles carries his mother's maiden name. Jessamine Boyce Bowles grew up in nearby Gastonia, NC and was a member of the Class of 1941. "She loved Converse," he said, and he accepted the invitation to speak at Converse, in part, because one of his closest friends, Jane Boatwright Schwab, a 1977 Converse alumna, asked him to and because, he said: "My mother would have kicked me all the way to Converse before she would have let me say no."

Offering shout-outs and accolades to the newest alumnae of the College, President Betsy Fleming encouraged the Red Devil class to "make the most of possibilities seen and unseen, known and unknown." She challenged them to "Make some noise. You have learned to speak up and speak out here. You started a revolution. You have become agents of change. So, go and fight for any cause dear to your heart that promises to enhance community."

Enumerating a number of the graduates' inspiring achievements and aspirations, President Fleming said, "You are smarter women because you came to college. But, you are better women because you came to Converse." Included in the list of seniors who were lauded for their efforts in and out of the classroom were:

  • Ashley Blount is Converse's first John Jay Institute Fellow and one of only 15 college graduates chosen from around the world for the year-long seminar on religion and public policy. Ashley was one of 25 students in the nation to take part in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Duke University and a participant in the world's premier shipboard education program as a Desmond Tutu scholar at Sea.
  • Ashley Page was accepted into Master's programs at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of South Carolina and University of Georgia. Ashley plans on a career in non-profit management. With a passion to put more kids on a path to college, Ashley established her own non-profit, Believe in Greatness (B.I.G.), during her sophomore year.
  • Lindsay Eller will attend the USC School of Medicine, Greenville. A top research student, she was published this month in the American Journal of Physiology following her work at the Herman B. Wells Center for Pediatric Research.
  • Erin Ezell and Lainie Sowell will join the heralded Americorps Program Teach for America. Erin will be a Teaching Fellow at Citizen Schools in Texas, working with lower income minority students, and Lanie will be working with special education students in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Morgan Roach was awarded a 5 year, fully-funded fellowship for a Ph.D. in Francophone Literature at Ohio State University. Morgan was also named a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the Office of International Education Exchange.
  • Celly Kahn will attend the Columbia University summer publishing course, one of the premiere programs for those who aspire to a career in the publishing industry.
  • Kiah Baxter-Ferguson, a creative writing major, will attend the MFA program in creative writing/fiction at Wichita State University, one of the oldest MFA programs in the country.
  • Alexandra Lee has a full ride to Cincinnati Conservatory of Music to study music theory.
  • Courtney Cambra, a star lacrosse player at Converse, joins Americorp as a literacy coach in in Florida.


Photo credit: Alex C. Hicks of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal