Converse celebrated its founding on Friday, April 15 with a rousing convocation that highlighted accomplishments made during this academic year, heralded as “The Year of I CAN” by President Betsy Fleming at Opening Convocation last September.
“The Converse brand of ‘I CAN’ demonstrates that when willing to think and do differently, great accomplishments can be made in the face of adversity,” said Fleming. Her remarks were punctuated by cheers from the audience as she recounted a selected list of such accomplishments, including:
• Completed construction of The Heath apartments in the midst of a challenging economy,
• A spring break trip to Haiti in which art therapy students and faculty trained hospital staff in developing a program to reduced symptoms of trauma and foster hope in the wake of last year’s earthquake
• Success of the Valkyries swim team as the first team in Converse history to finish a season undefeated and of Rhiannon Gluhosky as the College’s first All American athlete,
• Recognition of psychology professor Dr. Monica McCoy as South Carolina Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching,
• The awarding of a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Germany to senior Stephanie Jennings, and
• A recent packed-house concert at Converse by Tharanga Goonitelleke ’05, who became the first Sri Lankan to attend The Juilliard School and is now an artist with New York City Opera.
Alumna Pat Parsons Hickerson ’64 was keynote speaker. An embodiment of the “I Can” spirit, Hickerson was a trailblazer for women in the U.S. Army, leading with determination and perseverance through decades of change and retiring as the nation’s highest-ranking female officer. In sharing her “unexpected journey” that began in the 1970s, she reflected, “We were in uncharted territory, trying many things for the first time…I was one of two Women’s Army Corps officers attending the Infantry Advanced course with 200 male classmates and thousands of infantry soldiers in Infantry Hall. This was followed by assignment to the United States Military Academy at West Point to be an admissions officer for the first two classes of Women Cadets… It was a tense time at the Academy because they did not want women cadets and to some, (we) represented ‘the enemy’.”
Hickerson encouraged Converse to continue to advance education for women, stating, “I’m very proud to be a Converse Graduate. I’m excited about Converse today with its extraordinary progress and emphasis on leadership and innovation. I’m a strong advocate for the value of women’s colleges and the education they provide.”
Converse presented several awards during the service:
The Dexter Edgar Converse Award
The Dexter Edgar Converse Award is given annually to individuals who bring honor and strength to Converse College through their leadership, generosity and involvement both in the College community and in their own larger and varied communities. It is the highest honor given by Converse College.
This year Converse honors Roger Milliken, an extraordinary man whose curiosity, love of Earth, and passion for the value and benefits of independent educational institutions made a significant impact on the Converse community. Mr. Milliken passed away on December 30, 2010 at the very young age of 95, and his daughter, Nancy Milliken, accepted the award on the family’s behalf.
As a titian of the textile world, Roger Milliken’s extraordinary business acumen extended well beyond the corporate arena of product development and patented formulas. While he will be remembered worldwide as a great industrialist who helped build America’s manufacturing success, it was Mr. Milliken’s quest to advance higher education and his commitment to community that Converse College will long revere.
Upon moving to Spartanburg to establish headquarters for Milliken & Company in the 1950s, Roger and Nita Milliken began a deep friendship with Converse College that would span more than half a century and leave in indelible mark upon the lives of countless young women. Converse honored Nita Milliken with the Dexter Edgar Converse award in 1993, and the distinctive bond Converse shares with the Millikens comes full circle as the College bestows that same honor upon Roger.
For more than six decades, the Millikens provided generous, steady financial support to Converse that includes annual operating support, major gifts to campaigns and building projects, and the establishment of the Milliken Scholarship Program in 1978. Since that program’s inception, more than 300 top-achieving students have graduated as Milliken Scholars.
Roger Milliken contributed greatly of his time, intellect and resources to campus projects that involved green space and bricks and mortar. Converse’s Fine Arts Building bears the Milliken name. An active supporter of the College’s LEED designed buildings on campus, Mr. Milliken was most recently engaged with the renovation of Kuhn Hall and plans for the new apartment housing—a space that seems to mirror Mr. Milliken’s keen awareness of and appreciation for the beauty of his surroundings.
The Milliken name at Converse is today synonymous with vision, growth and excellence. “I am privileged to have known him as a colleague and a friend,” said President Betsy Fleming. “I often looked to him to embolden Converse’s commitment to innovation and change. He seemed to find great delight here—whether it was in helping the College to take calculated, ambitious risks, walking at my inauguration in his blue Yale regalia, relishing the talent at School of Music concerts, or talking about politics, trees or a great new book. It is hard to imagine a world without his agile and ageless mind, but his legacy will live on here.”
The Spirit of Converse Award
Benny Mixon is this year’s recipient of the Spirit of Converse Award, which is presented to employees who embody the core values of the College and positively impact our community through their professional and personal contributions. This award is one of the College’s most distinctive honors, providing an opportunity to celebrate those who go above and beyond the call of duty in serving Converse.
Mixon is known for bringing fresh daffodils from his own garden to enliven the Blackman Music Building with bursts of sunshine on regular work days and even Saturday audition days. He has been a stand-in escort at May Day for a student whose father was unable to attend. With his wife, he attends almost every concert or student recital. He is a hands-on tinkerer, helping students with car repairs and providing the intricate, fascinating details of the interworkings of a piano for anyone curious enough to ask. He is our “Piano-Man,” responsible for maintaining and keeping in tune every piano on the Converse campus. He is an expert of the highest caliber, one of only 70 Steinway-certified technicians worldwide.
The Weisiger Cup
Katherine Buehler is the third annual recipient of the Weisiger Cup, which recognizes a graduating senior who has an exceptional record of leadership and community building skills on the court, in the classroom and across campus. Katherine’s name will be added to the sterling silver trophy that is permanently housed in the Weisiger Center.
A biology major who serves up a fierce dose of skill, sportsmanship and teamwork for the Valkyries volleyball team, Katherine has excelled in all aspects of Converse. On the court, Katherine has commanded the respect of her teammates, opponents and coach. She has led the team as captain and has been named Best Offensive Player, Most Valuable Player, and recipient of the Coaches Award.
A participant in the Nisbet Honors Program, Katherine has conducted undergraduate research with Dr. Edna Steele and fellow student Keli Alber, served for two years as historian for the national biology honor society Tri Beta, and was honored with the CRC Press Freshman Chemistry Achievement Award. She has been a campus active leader, participating in the Daniels Leadership Program and serving on the Honor Board for three years and as chair of Civitas. Katherine expects to pursue a career in nursing. She currently volunteers on a weekly basis at the Serenity House, a comfort care residence for those who are terminally ill in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Katherine above all instills in all those with whom she interacts a real passion for life—an enthusiasm that she must owe to her mother who so enjoyed watching Katherine pursue her dreams here at Converse.
Weisiger Scholar Athletes
Weisiger Scholar Athletes must excel in academics, be expressly interested in the study of science, and also be dedicated to playing an NCAA Division II sport. This year’s Weisiger Scholar Athletes are Meghan Calvaruso of Louisville, Kentucky and Nichole Tackett of Taylors, South Carolina.
Meghan currently attends Eastern High School in Kentucky, where she serves as team captain for the swim team and has been named Most Valuable Player for the past three years. Not only an outstanding athlete, Meghan is a member of the National Beta Club and the National Honor Society. This fall, Meghan will become a member of the Valkyries Swim Team and plans to study biology. She hopes to attend medical school, pursuing a career as a physical therapist.
The second Weisiger Scholar Athlete, Nichole Tackett attends Blue Ridge High School, where she is a member of the soccer team, the Beta Club and the National Honor Society. This fall, Nichole will join the Valkyries Soccer team. With plans to study biochemistry, Nichole hopes to attend medical school and become a cardio thoracic surgeon. She has been invited into Converse’s Nisbet Honors program.