U.S. Congressman James E. Clyburn told Claflin University graduates Saturday that his successes have been well publicized over the years. But few people hear about his failures.
“When I ran for office in 1970, I lost,” he said. “Then when I ran again in 1978, I lost. And I lost again in 1986. A friend of mine said, ‘aren’t you ready to give up yet? Three strikes and you’re out!’ I told her that is a baseball rule. Do not live your lives by baseball rules. Try and try again.”
Claflin University held its 143rd Commencement Convocation Saturday, conferring more than 350 undergraduate and graduate degrees. Clyburn, a longtime friend and supporter of the university and a champion of higher education, delivered this year’s commencement address. Under the lights and cameras of a CSPAN production crew, who recorded the ceremony to air in a series of commencement speeches during memorial day weekend, Clyburn gave graduates advice his father gave him when he left home to pursue his education.
“My dad said to me, son the first sign of a good education is good manners,” he said. “Of all things you can learn, please learn to say please and thank you. Second, practice the golden rule…you are going to encounter people who have experienced things differently from you. Honor and respect others’ experiences.”
Finally, Clyburn used his experiences failing to win elections early on in his career to encourage graduates to never give up. He said if he had not continued to try to get elected, then he would not have made it to the House of Representatives.
“Not a single one of you can tell me how many times Thomas Edison failed,” Clyburn quipped. “You will not be remembered for your successes, but how well you overcome your failures. Commence means to begin. Today is not an ending, it's a beginning. Remember no matter how many times you fail, try and try again. The next time may be THE time.”
The theme carried on in top honor graduate Mudiwa Pettus’ charge to the class. Pettus, an English major, earned a perfect 4.0 at Claflin.
“Persevere, even in times when life has you down,” she said. “The world is large and often harsh. My charge to you is to persevere anyway. You have already persevered and are now graduating. Remember to fight your dreams.”
Two faculty members received excellence awards during the commencement ceremony. Dr. Samina Hassanali, assistant professor of biology, received the James E. Hunter Excellence in Teaching Award given annually for outstanding performance in teaching and educational development, and Dr. Muthukrishna Raja, associate professor of chemistry, was awarded the William H. and Annette B. Johnson Endowed Faculty Award for Innovative Scientific Research.
In addition to the 2013 graduates, Claflin awarded the Golden Diploma to the 50-year reunion class and a very special Platinum Diploma to four alumni who graduated 70 years ago. The platinum grads were recognized at a President’s luncheon held Friday in their honor.
“It’s hard to capsule 70 years at Claflin,” said Dr. Clemmie Hatchett, a Platinum graduate. “I am indeed thankful and blessed to be around after 70 years. And I will be back for my 75th and my 80th and 85th.”
Before receiving their degrees, graduates were uplifted and inspired during the baccalaureate service Friday night. The baccalaureate service derives from the medieval European custom of presenting the candidates for the degree of Bachelor (bacca) with laurels (lauri) of sermonic oration. The Baccalaureate ceremony is a service of worship in celebration of and thanksgiving for lives dedicated to learning and wisdom.
“We've worked hard preparing you for visionary and ethical leadership,” said President Henry N. Tisdale. “You are the ones we have been waiting for. You are the change we have been waiting for. This occasion is a way of pausing and acknowledging that candidates, you didn't get here by yourselves. Remember that God has been with you all the way. Today we thank God for blessing you. There are many more waiting for you. You just have to ask.”