South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal will deliver the commencement address to the Converse College’s 116th graduating class. Her address is entitled “Your Life of Leadership and Service.”
Bachelors degrees will be conferred upon approximately 170 candidates during the service on May 17 at 9:30 AM in Twichell Auditorium. Converse will also present the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award Outstanding Citizenship and Public Service to one graduating senior and one community leader, as well as awards for excellence in teaching, scholarly and creative achievement, curriculum innovation, and academic accomplishment for graduates and Converse faculty members.
Toal is the first and only woman to serve as a Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. She is also the first Roman Catholic to serve on South Carolina’s highest court. She began her service as an Associate Justice in 1988.
“As one of South Carolina’s most accomplished women, Chief Justice Toal is an incredible role model for Converse’s graduating class,” said Converse President Betsy Fleming. “She has experienced first-hand the powerful preparation that a women’s college provides for real-world success and for leading a balanced life that includes both personal and professional achievement.”
Toal earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1965 from Agnes Scott College and her juris doctorate in 1968 from the University of South Carolina School of Law. When she was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1968, women comprised less than one percent of the licensed lawyers in the state. She practiced law for 20 years prior to her election to the South Carolina Supreme Court, first as an associate with the Haynsworth Law Firm in Greenville, and then as an associate and partner with Belser, Baker, Barwick, Ravenel, Toal & Bender in Columbia.
For 13 years Toal served in the South Carolina House of Representatives for Richland County. During that time she worked for legislation in the fields of constitutional law, utilities regulation, criminal law, structure of local government, budgetary matters, structure of the judicial system, banking and finance legislation, corporate law, tort claims, workers’ compensation, freedom of information act and environmental law. She was the first woman in South Carolina to chair a standing committee of the House of Representatives.
In addition to her work on the bench, Toal has become chief advocate for South Carolina’s Judicial Automation Project, a multi-year plan to modernize the operations of the state courts. Under her leadership, technology initiatives are being integrated into the eight levels of the court system. Some of the technology projects include high-speed network connectivity to all 46 county courthouses and an on-line, statewide case management system. Because of her efforts in promoting technology as a way to create a more efficient court system, Chief Justice Toal was recognized by Government Technology magazine as one of the 2002 "Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers" of technology in government.