On May 20, 2023, the Converse community gathered to celebrate the graduating Class of 2023. Our graduates were involved in leadership opportunities, research, internships, study travel, and athletics. They now stand ready to pursue careers and support their communities as passionate, service-oriented citizens, as they make a positive difference in their professions and communities.
The week before Commencement was filled with a myriad of traditions, including the Senior BBQ, Senior Candlelight Dinner for the Converse College for Women, and the First Gen Graduate Celebration.
On Wednesday, May 17, 2023, doctoral candidates from Cohort Three celebrated with their friends, families, and Converse faculty and staff at the hooding ceremony held at the University Center of Greenville.
Candidates for the EdD were hooded by the Converse Leadership Faculty: Dr. Keshia Jackson Gilliam, Director of Master in Management Program; Dr. Lee Givins, Director of Professional Leadership Program; Dr. Jeff Martin, Assistant Professor of Education; and Dr. Lienne Medford, Dean of Education and Graduate Studies.
Dr. Lienne Medford presented the Thomas McDaniel Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation to Natalie Childs, who researched school librarian leadership for the dissertation “School Librarian Leadership: Perceptions and Practice”.
Holly Duncan ’23, former Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Converse, also received the Thomas McDaniel Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation. Duncan’s dissertation was titled “Organizational Embeddedness and the Roles of Support and Psychological Safety for Caregiving Senior-Level Employees Experiencing Work-Family Conflict.”
Baccalaureate, a service of celebration and longstanding Converse tradition, was held on Friday, May 19, 2023, followed by Hats Off. Watch Baccalaureate 2023 on the Converse YouTube channel.
Just before 9:30 am on Saturday, May 20, 2023, the Wilson Tower Bell rang as seniors processed through Johnson Plaza to Twichell Auditorium.
Emotions ran the gamut from laughter to tears to smiles as the graduates prepared to close an important chapter of their lives and launch into a new journey. Many in the procession were first-year students when the pandemic began.
As graduates and guests took their seats, Student Chaplain Anna Caroline McGuinn ’23 welcomed the Converse Community.
Converse’s 12th President, Dr. Boone J. Hopkins, enthusiastically kicked off the ceremony and spoke about the new journey ahead for the Class of 2023. “It is a journey that will require courage, perseverance, and resilience,” Hopkins said. “You will face challenges and obstacles along the way, but I have no doubt that you will overcome them with the grace and determination you have shown here.”
Hopkins spoke proudly of the graduates’ hard work, perseverance, and maturation, during their time at Converse. “You are creative thinkers, passionate advocates, and transformative leaders,” he boasted.
About the Class of 2023 Undergraduate Students:
- 30 seniors are first-generation college students.
- 9 seniors are Converse II students, non-traditional students.
- 53 seniors are student-athletes.
- 7 seniors earned two undergraduate degrees.
- 11 seniors are receiving degrees with multiple majors.
- 7 seniors are Converse International Students.
- 77% of seniors participated in a student organization.
- 50% of seniors were involved in leadership roles on campus.
- 50% held an internship while at Converse.
- 41% already have job placements at organizations including Pricewaterhouse Coopers; Yary Management; South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind; Alpha Investors; Greenville Theatre; NAACP; Spartanburg Districts Two and Six; Prisma Health; and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
Hopkins reminded graduates about their essential role of giving back. “I encourage you to open doors for others like others have done for you,” Hopkins said. “Wherever you are in your journey, the world needs more people who are willing to give back and make a positive impact. Together, we will make the world a better place.”
Chair of the Board of Trustees Sandra Shearouse Morelli ’78 spoke on behalf of the Converse University Board. Morelli reminded students that during their time at Converse, the members of the Board of Trustees were at work, often behind the scenes, to ensure that Converse fulfilled its mission of empowering students to become transformative leaders. “Have faith in your ability to give the best that is within you,” Morelli said. “We look forward to seeing how you make your mark.”
Provost and Vice President Joe Wilferth, PhD, congratulated graduates and introduced the 2023 Commencement speaker, Dr. J. Drew Lanham. Ornithologist, naturalist, writer, and 2022 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Lanham was named an Alumni Master Teacher in 2012 and is active on multiple conservation boards. Dr. WIlforth said, “Dr. Lanham is ultimately a champion for the natural world.”
As Lanham stepped up to the podium to give the commencement address, Dr. Hopkins presented him with an honorary degree – the Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.
Lanham spoke about the honor of addressing the graduating Class of 2023, and how that gratitude extends beyond him to his immediate family and the ancestors who have gone before him. He reminded the graduates to show gratitude to those who have supported them, from family and friends to roommates.
Lanham quoted poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” He paused, allowing guests to embrace those words from Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day.
Lanham then offered his suggestions on how all in attendance should move forward with their lives. “Be a part of nature, not apart from it.” He spoke about being present in each moment and using the changing seasons as new opportunities to approach life in a new way. Lanham also spoke of the importance of traveling as a way to connect with others and bolster empathy. “The miles will help you meter how small this world truly is when you begin to understand the importance that commonality among us presents. Meet others where they are. Make the world smaller person by person. Don’t judge based on difference; celebrate that.”
When Lanham said, “Read as many banned books as you can,” the audience erupted into thunderous applause.
He wrapped up his speech by continuing on the theme of nature and using it as a guide. “Let joy be the habitat that you seek.”
Angela Brobson ’23 (Nisbet Honors), President of the Student Government Association, spoke about the growth the Class of 2023 has shown over the past four years and how they should continue celebrating peers’ accomplishments. “Remember, achievements come in all different sizes,” Brobson said. “The dedication we have in celebrating each other’s success is what makes Converse such a special place.”
Dr. Chris Vaneman, Dean of Converse University’s School of the Arts, presented the 2023 Pi Kappa Lambda Award to Adriana Stamile ’23. The Pi Kappa Lambda Award recognizes the graduating senior with the highest grade point average in the Petrie School of Music Chapter of this national music honor society.
Dr. Erin Templeton, Dean of School of Humanities, Sciences & Business, presented the Elford C. Morgan Award to Ella Hardigree ’23. The family of Dr. Morgan gives the award to the graduating senior with the highest academic record in a traditional liberal arts major in the College of Humanities, Sciences, and Business. Ella graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA.
President Hopkins presented the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award to Dr. Kay Woodward. The Mary Mildred Sullivan Award is awarded to a member of the greater Spartanburg community, recognizing selfless service, dedication to sharing knowledge with others, and humane participation in the life of their community.
Woodward served with the Converse Psychology faculty and mentored countless students, including many outside her academic discipline who sought her counsel and guidance as Converse students. Woodward served on the Converse Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2012 and again from 2018 to 2022.
Provost Wilferth presented the Kathryne Amelia Brown Award to Dr. Joe Barrera, Associate Professor of Mathematics. The Kathryne Amelia Brown Award was established at Converse by the late Mr. and Mrs. James Douglas Brown of Ozark, Alabama, in memory of their daughter, a member of the Class of 1970, to recognize faculty members who have excelled in the classroom.
Provost Wilfirth said, “Dr. Joe Barrera is an intentional and thoughtful educator, and he has created novel methods for preserving intellectual integrity while utilizing pedagogy that makes mathematics accessible for all of his students.”
After the undergraduate degrees were conferred to the 129 seniors, Libby Tilson ’79, President of the Alumni Board, welcomed them to the Converse Alumni Association. She encouraged the new graduates to show off their Converse pride and to connect with a local alumni chapter. “I truly love this institution,” Tilson said. “I am indeed grateful for the administration, the faculty and staff, and all others who impressively represent the values of our alma mater.’
University Chaplain Rev. Eliza Smith DeBevoise, formally ended Commencement as she offered the Benediction. Graduates and their guests mingled outside on Johnson Plaza, taking photos and enjoying refreshments.
Watch the 2023 Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on the Converse YouTube channel.
The campus began to clear of guests, but Converse staff were still hard at work, preparing for the final celebration of the day — Graduate Commencement.
About the Class of 2023 Graduate Students
- 25 recipients earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.
- 20 recipients earned a Masters in Education.
- 18 recipients earned a Masters in Management in Professional Leadership.
- 18 recipients earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching degree.
- 16 recipients earned an EdD in Professional Leadership.
- 9 recipients earned an Education Specialist Degree.
- 7 recipients earned a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
- 6 recipients earned a Masters in Music.
- 4 recipients earned a Masters in Liberal Arts.
Beginning the ceremony, President Hopkins welcomed the graduate students and their guests. “This is your day to celebrate your hard work,” Hopkins said. “I want to encourage you to continue leading the way for the next generation of Converse students. Like those who came before us, we are stronger when we remain true to our values and support one another.”
Dr. Brant Bynum spoke on behalf of Converse University Board of Trustees. Bynum spoke of the mutual respect and love that the entire Converse community has as they support Converse’s mission and vision. “Graduates, it is clear that you have invested yourselves fully, with great commitment and determination, in your success, and that has prepared you for this day and for your road ahead,” Bynum said.
The ceremony took an unexpected, humorous turn as Provost Wilferth approached the podium while taking a phone call from his wife, who shared congratulations and a few tidbits of advice for the graduates. Wilferth then shared the history of the shortest commencement address on record. Dr. Seuss’ commencement address at Lake Forest College in 1977 was less than one minute long. The underlying message of that succinct speech, to be mindful of what you take in — literally and figuratively, was the backbone of Provost Wilferth’s message to the graduates.
“Be careful what you swallow in this world of ideologues, media personalities, and influencers,” Wilferth advised.
He went on to say, “Consider and celebrate who you were when you started this journey toward earning your graduate degree. Consider and celebrate who you are today as a result of your outstanding education. And consider and celebrate who you will be tomorrow.”
Dr. Lienne Medford presented The Lovett Promising School Leader Award to Lisa Dunigan ’23. This award was established in 2014 with the financial support of former Dean of the School of Education and Graduate Studies, Dr. Martha T. Lovett, who served Converse from 1986 to 2002. This award is given annually to a graduate student completing a degree in school administration.
Dr. Lienne Medford presented the inaugural Nancy Breard Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching to Dr. Meg Lee, Director of Gifted Education & Assistant Professor of Education. Dr. Nancy Breard was a faculty member at Converse from 1989 to 2012 and was the director of the Gifted and Talented Program and the Athena Summer Program. The award is named for Breard in recognition of her contributions to graduate education at Converse, as she represents the best in graduate education and service to graduate programs.
The Nancy Breard Award was established by the Division of Graduate Studies in 2023 to recognize outstanding teaching and service to Graduate Education at Converse University. The Breard Award is limited to nominees from among those full-time faculty members for whom the majority of their work involves graduate students. Dr. Breard traveled from New Mexico to attend Commencement to see the first recipient receive this honor.
After degrees were conferred, Dr. Medford addressed the new graduates. “You leave Converse a more educated and a better person,” she said. “Better because you can use what you have learned here to help others and improve lives. Go forth and conquer—conquer ignorance, conquer small-mindedness, conquer the darkness and bring the light. That is what I believe it means to be a Converse graduate, regardless of the circumstances.”
Watch the 2023 Graduate Commencement Ceremony on the Converse YouTube channel.
The Converse Legacy Club is an esteemed group of graduates with a family Converse legacy. Graduates whose parent, grandparent or great-grandparent, aunt or uncle, or sibling attended Converse are considered a Converse legacy. The Legacy Club plays a part in the University’s rich history and we honor these legacies by recognizing this special bond.
Kristina Michelle Johnson Belcher was hooded by her aunt Joy Johnson in memory of Kristina’s grandmother, Betty VanEttan Johnson, Class of 1943.
Ella Ruth Hardigree was hooded by her mother, Kelli Gosnell Hardigree, Classes of 1992 and 1996.
Charlotte Elizabeth Hutson was hooded by her mother, Heather Pruitt Hutson, Class of 1998.
Erin Cain Kitchenka (Nisbet Honors) was hooded by her mother, Valerie Shuman Kitchenka, Class of 1991.
Sabrina Regine Roche was hooded by her sister, Kathleen Roche, Class of 2021, and is the daughter of Mildred Roche, Class of 1979, and John Roche, Class of 1992.
Taylor Kathleen Rodgers was hooded by her sister, Savannah Rogers, Class of 2022.
Sydney Diane Watson was hooded by her mother, Syliva Freeman Watson, Class of 1990.
Katrina Danielle Jones was hooded by her aunt, Joy Johnson, in memory of Katrina’s grandmother, Betty VanEttan Johnson, Class of 1943.
Rhett de Mark was hooded by her mother, Bonnie Wall Gramling, Class of 1994
Stephanie Hicks was hooded by her mother, Judy Kesig Hicks, Class of 1985.
Anna Neely was hooded by her mother, Elizabeth Robinson Neely, Class of 1989.
Lauren Pittman was hooded by her Aunt, Jennifer Pittman Baskin, Class of 2011.
Caroline Vetter was hooded in memory of her mother, Susan Hall Fisher, Class of 1998, by her sister Mary Kate Porter.